For the third time in four games, the Prince Albert Raiders couldn’t win a game in overtime.
On Tuesday night, the team fell 5-4 to the visiting Vancouver Giants in the extra frame. The Giants relied on their speed, their quick transition play and the son of a former NHLer to keep them in the game.
“Little Ronning’s a quick player,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said of the Giants’ speedy right winger, Ty Ronning, the son of former NHL stalwart Cliff Ronning.
Ty’s second first-period goal put his side up 3-2 at 5:21 into the game, effectively chasing starting goalie Curtis Meger from the game; Habscheid replaced Meger with Nicholas Sanders after Ty’s score.
Listed at five feet, nine inches, Ronning motored down the right side of the ice, deked out defenceman Zach Hayes past the centre line and then fired a laser shot on Meger’s blocker side.
Meger hung his head, knowing he should have had it.
Ronning scored an equally drool-worthy goal earlier in the period, at 2:21. After Bowen Byram set him up on a breakaway, he deked out Meger, feigning a forehand shot while switching to his backhand and putting the puck into the open net.
His goals were two of many chances the Giants created by using their speed on the transition to force the Raiders back on their heals.
“As soon they thought they were getting possession, they would fly guys. So we had to honour that. As soon as they do that, your (defence) come off the line and create a softer gap, so it was something that we had to do to keep them in front of us,” Habscheid explained.
That strategy shut down many of the puck cycling plays the Raiders tried to set up in their opponents’ zone.
Not that they didn’t have chances – the Giants’ commitment to rushes opened holes for the Raiders to do the same to their adversaries.
Jordy Stallard, Parker Kelly and Sean Montgomery all scored on the rush after transitioning out of the neutral zone.
Stallard’s quick, targeted wrist shot was his team’s first goal of the game, at 3:45 in the first period. He was set up with a pass from newcomer Sergei Sapego; as Stallard crossed the Giants’ blue line, he fired his shot between two defenders, past David Tendeck’s blocker. The score was 2-1 for Vancouver.
Sixty-five second later, Sapego potted his first goal of the year, using his backhand shot in close to bounce the puck into the net off of a Vancouver defender. After that and Ronning’s second goal, the game was 3-2.
Kelly and Montgomery put their team ahead 4-3, thanks to goals at 18:27 and 19:58, respectively.
Kelly set up a reflexive give-and-go with Stallard that left Tendeck overcommitted the opposite way and his net wide open.
Montgomery was left open in the high slot area, after Cole Fonstad set him up with a tactile pass, the clock ticking. Montgomery wristed the puck past Tendeck’s glove, putting his team up 4-3.
The Giants’ Alex Kannok Leipert evened the score at 4-4 at 8:25 of the second period, after his shot deflected off of a player and into Sanders’ net. Each team had several close chances to put their team up in the score, but Sanders and Tendeck wouldn’t give away anything.
Dawson Holt wound up winning the game for his team in overtime. His wrist shot at 2:35 beat Sanders’ glove side, bounced off the left post, bounced off Sanders’ back and landed in the net.
“It seems like their bounces are going in and ours aren’t,” Kelly said after game.
The 18-year-old associate captain said it’s frustrating to keep losing games in overtime, but his team’s resiliency is a positive sign.
“It means we’re close, but close isn’t good enough. It sucks right now, but (I’m) glad to see that we’re progressing, and taking some pretty good teams into overtime,” he said. “But ultimately, you can’t be good. You gotta be great.”
Two nights prior, the Raiders played to a 6-5 overtime loss in Brandon, and two nights before that, they pushed the Regina Pats to overtime, losing 2-1.
The team’s recent tight schedule wasn’t lost on Habscheid.
“We scrapped our way back (tonight). Our guys are tired – four games in five days with lots of travel against some pretty good teams. So all is not lost. We got a point. They’re a tired bunch, so we found a way,” he said.
Like Kelly, Sanders was resolute after the loss. “Overall we just gotta win at the end of the day. We didn’t do that. We came close, but we came close in three of our last four now, so it’s not good enough.”
NOTES: Sapego’s goal was his first as a Raider and his first this year … After replacing Meger, Sanders stopped 33 of 35 shots, a 0.942 save percentage … Montgomery scored his goal with 1.4 seconds remaining in first period … The Raiders now have the most overtime losses in the WHL, three … They’re now ranked two points back of the Regina Pats in the East division; the Pats are in fourth place with 11 points, while the Raiders sit in fifth place with 9 points … The Raiders next game is Oct. 21 at home against the Saskatoon Blades; game time is 7 p.m.