The Prince Albert Raiders entered Friday’s game against the high-calibre Swift Current Broncos knowing they’d have their hands full against the WHL’s leading point scorers.
They didn’t know they’d hold the Broncos’ top line to a solitary goal and chase the league’s top goalie from the game after two periods.
Fair to say they exceeded expectations.
A multi-point night from centreman Jordy Stallard coupled with a stingy, physical Raiders’ defence gave the team what it wanted, a 5-1 victory over the #2-ranked team in the country.
“It was probably as solid of a game as we played all season. It was complete from start to finish. I thought we did a real good job – we played hard, played smart and played systematically,” head coach Marc Habscheid said of the win.
The Raiders had to contend with the Broncos’ top line of Glenn Gawdin, Tyler Steenbergen and Aleksi Heponiemi, who had combined for 99 points over 13 games prior to Friday’s game.
Defencemen Brayden Pachal and Vojtech Budik stifled the trio, holding them to one goal (Heponiemi on the powerplay) and one assist (Gawdin).
“That line has been wrecking the league so far. It’s a big part of our gameplan to shut down the league’s top line when you play them,” Pachal said.
Along with their defence, the Raiders’ line of Sean Montgomery, Curtis Miske and Devon Skoleski used a physical, agitating style of play to disrupt the rhythm and tempo of the Gawdin-Steenbergen-Heponiemi line.
“We hard-line matched with those five guys, and we talked to them about how we wanted to play against them. And I think the other thing was we had good discipline, we stayed out of the box, and they retaliated and gave us powerplay opportunities that we cashed in on,” Habscheid said.
The Swift Current trio combined for 10 penalty minutes, including two infractions by Steenbergen, who was selected as last season’s most sportsmanlike player.
“You can obviously tell that’s their gameplan,” Gawdin, his team’s captain, said. “They want to play that physical game against our key guys. We knew that coming in, and they just kind of dictated the game early on with that physical play. I think just throughout the game it got us off ours.”
The Raiders also found a way to beat Broncos’ goalie Logan Flodell early and often. Coming into Friday’s game, the Swift Current netminder held the league’s best save percentage.
Rookie Justin Nachbaur scored his first goal of the year at 3:57 of the first period. He was left open in the slot after the puck bounced to him from a Brett Leason pass.
The third-line grinder put it top shelf on Flodell.
Just over a minute later, Stallard scored a powerplay goal by backhanding the puck through Flodell’s five hole.
Stallard added another powerplay goal at 16:31 of the period: His one-timer snap shot from the faceoff circle beat Flodell’s blocker side and made the score 3-0.
Halfway through the second period, Stallard notched another powerplay goal for the hat trick, putting his side up 4-0.
The Broncos finally found a way to crack Raiders’ goalie Ian Scott at 14:41 of the second period while on the powerplay.
Heponiemi tossed the puck on net from the upper faceoff circle on Scott’s left side. Defenceman Artyom Minulin provided the screen on Scott as the puck slid into the net.
Montgomery topped off his team’s scoring after tipping a Brayden Pachal snap shot past Flodell with less than three minutes to go in the period.
That was enough for Broncos’ head coach Manny Viveiros: He replaced Flodell with goalie Joel Hofer to start the third period.
The two teams skated to a scoreless final frame.
Talking about the game’s physical, chippy play, Pachal said “I think it went a little bit of both ways.
“I think when you’re playing that top line, they don’t want to get physically involved; they want to play a skill game, so you gotta drag ‘em into that physical game and they’re going to. I think they folded a bit.”
With the win, the Raiders remain in fifth place in the WHL’s East Division. Their record is 7-5-3-0, and they sit two points back of Brandon (19 points).
The Raiders will next host the Moose Jaw Warriors (12-4-0-0) on Saturday night at the Art Hauser Centre. Game time is 7 p.m.