Defenceman Vojtech Budik has a knack for game-winning goals.
One night after potting the winner off of a rebound, Budik was the set-up man Saturday night against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Budik found a waiting Parker Kelly on Tigers goalie Michael Bullion’s doorstep; he passed the puck across the Tigers’ slot area to Kelly, who hauled it in, skated around Bullion at the edge of the crease, and then buried the black rubber into the gaping net.
Kelly’s third-period goal, his third of the season, proved the winner as the Prince Albert Raiders beat the Tigers 4-2 at the Art Hauser Centre, improving their record to 2-2-0-0.
Budik was skating with the puck at the top of the Tigers’ circle on Bullion’s right side. The Czech defender waited just long enough to draw Bullion out to the perimeter of his crease, when he snapped the puck to his teammate.
Kelly did the rest.
“I know the (defencemen) are told to look for sticks, and my job is just to get open and always go to the net and be the pest that I am in front there,” Kelly said of the play. “So I think it’s been working for us, and as long as I get open for the defence, they’re gonna put it on my tape.”
Sporting their Don Cherry-themed, tartan-plaid jerseys with all-black pants and socks, the Raiders kept the pressure on the Tigers for most of the game, firing 36 shots at Bullion and creating several breakaway and odd-man rush opportunities.
Raiders’ goalie Curtis Meger got his first WHL start in net for the club, and he was solid throughout the game.
The 19-year-old rookie turned aside 30 of 32 Tigers’ shots.
“In our end we kept shots to the outside, and I was seeing the puck well, so it resulted in a win,” Meger said.
He noted how quickly the pace of the game went, especially considering the Tigers’ speed.
“(They’re) a really fast team coming down the ice off the rush. They like to make plays, so I had to be ready for that,” he said.
Meger stood tall in the dying two minutes of the game when Medicine Hat, down 3-2, pulled Bullion in favour of gaining the extra attacker in the Raiders’ zone.
Through a flurry of sticks, deflected shots and blocked shots the Raiders goalie stopped all the pucks thrown his way, tallying 12 saves in the period.
“You have to trust your (defence) at all times, but at the same time you have to always know where guys are … you have to fight to see the puck, but I felt I did that well tonight,” he said.
At the end of the first period, the score was tied 1-1, with the Raiders creating most of the momentum by keeping the puck in the Tigers zone for a majority of the period.
The frame included an early four-minute penalty kill for the Raiders, who managed to kill off the Tigers’ powerplay and allow only two Tigers’ shots on net.
After Gary Haden scored for the Tigers at 14:30, Cole Fonstad responded with a floater of a shot that fooled Bullion, who lost sight of the puck, and found the back of the Tigers’ net.
The ice was tilted a little more towards the Raiders’ net in the second period: Medicine Hat upped its tempo through parts of the frame, eventually scoring the go-ahead goal, courtesy Max Gerlach on the power play at 15:50.
Not to be outdone, Raiders’ 20-year-old Devon Skoleski evened the score at 2-2, ten seconds before the period expired.
As the puck was bouncing to the left of Bullion and Tigers defenders were trying to corral it, Skoleski made a swiping dive at the puck, knocking it through Bullion’s legs and effectively swinging momentum back to his side.
“I knew there wasn’t much time left, so I just thought ‘drive the net’ and luckily the puck popped out, and I just dove and got it,” he said.
Once the third period began, the Raiders were firmly in control for the rest of the game, creating several chances and near-goals, leading up to the Budik-to-Kelly score, which Max Martin also assisted on.
With 3.7 seconds to go in the game, captain Curtis Miske buried the insurance goal on the the Tigers’ empty net.
The Raiders wore the Grapes-themed jerseys as part of a WHL-wide charity drive for organ donation. The team raised more than $10,000 through auctioning off the sweaters online and at the game.
The team has no games over the next five days, after which it’ll head to Alberta for games against the Lethbridge Hurricanes (2-2-0-0) on Friday and a rematch with the Tigers (2-2-0-0) on Saturday.