After a gritty 3-2 win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes Wednesday evening, the Prince Albert Raiders moved up to a .500 record, but getting there wasn’t easy, according to head coach Marc Habscheid.
In his post-game interview, he deferred to the team’s trainer, Duane “Puff” Bartley.
“(He) had it best during the game: It’s just like pushing rope today. That’s kind of the way it was; it was a difficult game,” Habscheid said.
The Western Hockey League teams met for the second time this season; the Hurricanes beat the Raiders 4-1 on Oct. 6 in Lethbridge.
Unlike that early loss, on Wednesday evening the Raiders held the Hurricanes’ offence in check; they limited Lethbridge’s points leaders Giorgio Estephan and Jordy Bellerive to a single combined point, while limiting the pair to four total shots.
That was despite the club being absent one of its defensive leaders, Vojtech Budik. The 19-year-old Czech national departed on Wednesday for training camp in Buffalo, N.Y. with his country’s junior team for the upcoming World Junior Championships.
“You take his minutes out and those minutes need to be filled,” Habscheid said. “I thought our young (defencemen) did a real good job … there was 22 minutes of ice time that needed to be filled.”
Along with Max Martin, Brayden Pachal and Zack Hayes, the Prince Albert club had its efforts boosted by rookie Rhett Rhinehart, newcomer Austin Crossley and affiliated player Adam Herold.
Hayes said the extra minutes played by the team’s younger defenders is a good thing for them.
“It gives them confidence, especially going forward after (Budik) and (Sergei Sapego) are back. It just helps them in the long run.”
After the first period, the Raiders were up to 2-1, thanks to goals from forwards Brett Leason and Jordy Stallard, while the Hurricanes’ Jake Elmer scored a backhand deke on goalie Ian Scott.
Elmer tied the game at 2-2 at 8:27 of the second period. It took the Raiders almost the rest of the frame to break the tie.
At 19:40, Curtis Miske skated through the slot in front of goalie Reece Klassen, during which he roofed his backhand shot over the rookie goalie for what would be the game-winning goal.
The third period saw the hockey teams skate to a scoreless draw, giving Prince Albert its 13th win on the year.
Comparing his defensive unit now to that Oct. 6 game in Alberta, Hayes said, “every game we’re getting better. We’re learning new ways just for playing in our d-zone, (and) we can learn to do better.”
On Wednesday, that meant playing a systematic, simple game that kept the puck moving forward, up the ice, he said.
Habscheid underscored the same point.
“We pushed the rope long enough or straight enough to get the win.
“When you do that, you really can’t do too much. You have to really simplify, you have to play the pucks forward, gain lines, gain real estate and grind away.”
Raiders forward Parker Kelly agreed.
“I think it was kind of one of those nights where we were grinding a bit, and then the puck luck wasn’t going our way, and we had to find a way,” he said. “I think in the third period there we really were grinding and battling and kept advancing pucks.”
The win moves the Raiders up to 0.500 with a 13-13-5-2 record, one point back of the fourth-place Regina Pats (16-15-2-0) in the WHL’s East division.
The Raiders will next play the Kelowna Rockets (18-11-2-1) at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday night at 7 p.m.
After that, the team will be off for its Christmas break, before returning to action on Dec. 27.
As part of a season-long initiative that started on Nov. 3 among Prince Albert’s city councillors, Ward 3 representative Evert Botha invited and hosted a family from his ward at the game.*
Parents Jared and Joleen Burns, along with their three kids, joined Botha to take in the junior hockey league action. After the first period, Zariah, Zoe and Zander all said they liked what they had seen from the Raiders so far.
*This story has been corrected and updated. The original story stated that Wednesday evening was the first time a councillor hosted a family at a Raiders’ game. In fact, Wednesday was the sixth game that a city councillor brought a family to a Raiders’ home game.