The Portland Winterhawks were the hottest team in the Western Hockey League heading into Friday night as they were on a six-game win streak.
Following 60 minutes of play, the Prince Albert Raiders had put an end to that recent run of form.
Brett Leason broke open a 2-2 affair near the midway point of the third period and Sean Montgomery would seal the deal with a late empty netter as the Raiders came away with a 4-2 triumph at the Art Hauser Centre.
“We played a full 60 minutes tonight,” Leason said. “We can still sharpen things up when it comes to our discipline and we can improve a few things on our special teams, but I thought we had a really good game.
“Both teams play fast and have a lot of skill, so it was pretty back and forth out there. I felt like we dominated the game when it was five-on-five, but they hung around all night and kept things close until the very end.”
After a wild opening frame that saw both teams score twice and dueling glove saves by Ian Scott and Joel Hofer, neither side was able to break through until Leason sniped a shot past Hofer for his first WHL goal since a game in Swift Current on Dec. 4.
“It’s been awhile since I scored,” Leason said. “It felt nice to finally get one and have some luck go my way.”
“He’s not here to block shots that’s for sure,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid joked. “Brett didn’t quite have that jump in his game (after coming back from the World Juniors) but he was a lot better tonight and that goal should really help him gain some confidence.”
While some of the penalties that were called against the Raiders left Habscheid perplexed, he was pleased with the team’s penalty kill as they stymied five of the Winterhawks’ six power play chances.
“Other than when they scored on the five-on-three, we didn’t give them a lot of opportunities,” Habscheid said. “We’re definitely happy with how our guys played, especially when your up against two talented guys like (Joachim) Blichfeld and (Cody) Glass.”
“You have to play hard against guys like them because they are always capable of making plays,” Raiders blueliner Zack Hayes added. “A lot of our focus tonight was just on being in the proper position out there. If we are playing well in our zone, they can’t score.”
Hayes and Leason had a goal and an assist each for the 36-5-0-1 Raiders, while Noah Gregor had a pair of assists.
Cole Fonstad joined Montgomery in finding the back of the net and Scott turned aside 27 shots to set a new single-season high in wins with 25.
Jake Gricius and Seth Jarvis both scored for the 25-11-3-2 Winterhawks, who received a 23-save performance from Hofer as he made his debut for the club following a trade with the Swift Current Broncos Wednesday.
The Raiders will wrap up a five-game home stand Saturday as the Calgary Hitmen will come to town for a 7 p.m. affair.
Not only did the Raiders prevent the Winterhawks’ from having a chance to sweep their East Division road swing, they also picked up their first home win over Portland since a 7-0 affair on Oct. 21, 2008.
The Raiders went 4-1 this year against U.S. Division sides at the Art Hauser Centre, with their only loss coming in a 4-1 affair on Wednesday against the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Joachim Blichfeld and Jake Gricius were both able to extend their point streaks to seven games Friday for the Winterhawks, though forward Lane Gilliss saw his seven-game run come to an end.
Bryce Bader and Loeden Schaufler did not dress for the Raiders after joining the team in trades on Thursday, while the newly-acquired Boston Bilous served as the backup to Scott.
The Winterhawks scratched Brendan De Jong, Haydn Delorme, Tyson Kozak and Kade Nolan.
- Seattle 7 Moose Jaw 2 (Andrej Kukuca – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Calgary 4 Saskatoon 3 (Mark Kastelic Overtime Winner – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Red Deer 5 Brandon 3 (Brett Davis – One Goal and Three Assists)
- Edmonton 5 Lethbridge 1 (Scott Atkinson – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Medicine Hat 5 Regina 2 (Brett Kemp – Two Goals)
- Prince George 7 Kelowna 2 (Josh Maser – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Victoria 4 Kamloops 1 (Scott Walford – One Goal and One Assist)
- Tri-City 4 Everett 3 (Sasha Mutala – One Goal and One Assist)
As a result of the Portland Winterhawks’ loss to Prince Albert and their own 4-3 overtime victory over the Saskatoon Blades Friday, the Hitmen are now the hottest team in the WHL as they have won their last six outings.
The Hitmen have a 21-16-3-1 record to sit in fifth place in the Central Division and enter Saturday’s slate of games with an eight point lead over the Brandon Wheat Kings for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Goaltender Carl Stankowski and forward Tye Carriere are both not expected to play as they are sidelined for at least two more weeks with injuries.
- Brandon vs. Moose Jaw – 7 p.m.
- Calgary vs. Prince Albert – 7 p.m.
- Red Deer vs. Regina – 7 p.m.
- Portland vs. Saskatoon – 7 p.m.
- Seattle vs. Swift Current – 7 p.m.
- Kootenay vs. Lethbridge – 8 p.m.
- Edmonton vs. Medicine Hat – 8:30 p.m.
- Kelowna vs. Prince George – 9 p.m.
- Tri-City vs. Spokane – 9 p.m.
- Everett vs. Victoria – 9 p.m.