Preview: Raiders expect speed, tough test from Royals

Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Brayden Pachal skates the puck into the offensive zone during October 2017 WHL action from the Art Hauser Centre. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Ahead of his team’s Wednesday night game with the highly-ranked Victoria Royals, defenceman Brayden Pachal expects it to be an exciting, tight game that will test his defensive unit.

“I think our (defensive)-core is really strong and Victoria’s forward group is really strong,” the Prince Albert Raider said.

“It’s gonna be a good test for our (defensive)-core, and it’s gonna be a really exciting game.”

The Raiders’ alternate captain, now 18 years old, began his junior hockey career with the Royals in the 2015-16 season. The team traded Pachal to he Raiders last season, on Jan. 9, 2017.

“Just from me playing there, I know how they play. They’re a fast team, and they’re a skilled team.”

Royals’ centreman Matthew Phillips is ranked third among all WHL skaters in points (28), thanks to 11 goals and 17 assists. And fellow centreman Tyler Soy has twice earned CHL player of the week honours in October.

Victoria has also shown a proclivity for depth on offence: Of the 23 skaters on the team’s roster, 20 have scored at least one point (either a goal or an assist), and 16 have scored at least one goal.

The Royals have a 9-3-0-1 record and are tied with Brandon for second place overall in the WHL. They rank first in goals scored (67) through 13 games played. They’re in sixth place in the 22-team league for goals allowed (39).

“Victoria’s a team that plays a good two-way game. They play a heavier game, so we gotta be ready for that,” associate and defensive coach Dave Manson said.

“The teams out west play a lot of similar styles. They’ve got some speed with Soy up front and a couple of other guys, so it’s gonna be a good, fast game.”

Manson said he’s expecting the Royals’ play to be similar to the Vancouver Giants, whom the Raiders pushed and ultimately fell to in overtime a week ago on Oct. 17.

Since the loss, the Raiders found themselves in a similar situation against the Saskatoon Blades last Saturday.

The Blades erased a two-goal deficit and forced overtime against the Raiders, but Prince Albert won the game on a Parker Kelly tap-in goal set up by Pachal, after the pair created a two-on-one rush.

In that game, the Raiders found success is blocking many of the shots fired at goalie Ian Scott, along with steering pucks away from the netminder’s crease area.

“I think it’s a d-man’s job to let the goalie see the pucks. So it’s our job to box out players. And then blocking shots has been something our coaches have been preaching for a while. It’s part of our culture, and it’s something that needs to be done to win,” Pahcal said.

As for the Royals’ offensive firepower, Manson said the team’s coaches “prep our guys all the time about knowing especially who they’re playing against. But it doesn’t matter who the player is – it’s still your job to know who you’re up against.”

He said there aren’t any holes or weaknesses readily identifiable in the Victoria team.

“They’re pretty solid right through with the addition of (defenceman Chaz) Reddekopp now on the back end. He’s got a lot of minutes for them.”

The key for his defenceman to find success is to do it “by committee, so all six guys have to play. And it’s better that way, because they range in ages. So it’s good for your young guys to get some time so they can develop. And then you got older guys that are working towards careers down the road.”

Pachal also stressed the importance of experience, especially through his team’s recent stretch of games that went to overtime (four of its last five).

“The more overtime you play, the more experience you get. So yeah I think it builds character.”

Game time is 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening at the Art Hauser Centre.

The Royals are currently on a two-game losing skid: They dropped games to Brandon (4-2) on Saturday and to Regina (5-3) on Friday. They play in Saskatoon on Tuesday evening before heading to Prince Albert.

As part of cancer awareness month, the team will use the game to begin silent auctions for three signed, pink hockey sticks, bearing the autographs of either Cole Fonstad, Max Martin or Parker Kelly. The auctions will end during the team’s Friday night home game this week.

The Raiders also continue to raise money through goals scored at home ($50 per each) and online ticket sales for home games ($5 per each). The money raised will be donated to the Prince Albert Cancer Society.

So far, the team has raised $450.