As the Prince Albert Raiders head into their Saturday night game with the Saskatoon Blades, head coach Marc Habscheid defended his players, despite their recent losing skid.
The Raiders (3-4-3-0) host the Blades (3-6-0-0) after having lost their last four games (played over five days). The Raiders managed to push their opponents to overtime in three of those instances, earning an extra point in each. The overtime periods were played against Regina, Brandon and Vancouver.
In Habscheid’s mind, his players’ grit was evident throughout; right after the Regina loss, the team travelled to Brandon for back-to-back games in Manitoba, after which they had one day off before hosting Vancouver back in Prince Albert.
The shortest route to Brandon from Prince Albert is approximately 665 km, about 6.75 hours of driving (one way).
“Our players so far this season have been really good in terms of expectations and putting demands on themselves and demands on their teammates,” he said. “At some point in time as a coach, you gotta get in front of your players.
“And they were tired. We were hanging on in the third period (against Vancouver). They were tired. (Vancouver) was putting (speedster Ty) Ronning on every second shift, so we had to be aware of that, and our guys were dragging,” he said.
Habscheid disagreed that his team’s recent losses have to do with a lack of finish or a lack of killer instinct among his players.
“To look back in the game and think it’s this one thing – everybody wants to win the game. I think the guys gave us everything they had against Vancouver, physically, mentally as individuals and as a team,” he said. “Stuff happens. It doesn’t mean our team played poorly.”
The team’s second line of Jordy Stallard (centre), Cole Fonstad and Parker Kelly (wingers) has found success through the last few games, marking some of the progress the team has shown through its first ten games this year.
The trio has combined for 17 points over those four games; they’ve developed tangible chemistry on the ice too, where Fonstad frequently functions as the set-up man for Stallard, while Kelly agitates opponents enough to create space for his linemates.
“It’s fun to play with them. We’re all kind of similar. We all have hockey sense. We have skills, we can skate,” Fonstad said. “I think as along as we’re working hard, everything will just come together for us. So it’s nice to see the points coming out.”
The 17-year-old Estevan native admitted there are times when his team needs to hold and keep leads and find ways to finish off games.
But he said the points gained from the overtime losses will likely be positive difference-makers once the end of the season nears and his team makes a push for the playoffs.
As for his team pushing opponents to overtime, Fonstad noted it’s a good sign of the Raiders’ resiliency.
“I think it shows we’re a good team. I think people know we’re a good team. We know we’re a good team,” he said.
“We’re starting to show that we can compete with anyone, and it’s not a matter of going out there and ‘Oh I wonder what the score’s gonna be tonight.’ We have the confidence in ourselves that we can play with every team in this league and we can beat every team in this league,” he said.
As for facing Saskatoon, Fonstad said if the Raiders keep playing their style of game, they should be successful.
Habscheid expects Blades’ forwards Braylon Shmyr and Cameron Hebig to be big offensive threats for their side, come Saturday night.
“(They’re) two of the best players in the league. And they’re going to create offense. They’re quick, they’re fast, they move.
“We have to be aware of them and make sure we don’t give them freebees, and we’ve got to be good at not taking unnecessary penalties,” he said
The pair has combined for 27 points so far this season – 14 for Shmyr and 13 for Hebig.
The Blades are coming off of a 6-3 home loss to the Vancouver Giants on Wednesday night.
Game time on Saturday is 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.