Despite a high-energy, physical start to their Thursday night game, the Prince Albert Raiders again fell short against the Saskatoon Blades.
The Western Hockey League teams met for the second consecutive night, and it was the Blades who proved to have the more effective gameplan; they bested the hometown Raiders 6-4.
Rookie goalie Nolan Maier backstopped Saskatoon to a 38-save performance, and centreman Josh Paterson notched a hat trick for the Blades en route to the victory.
“We weren’t very good in the first (period), so we needed to (pick it up in the second). It’s the biggest game of the year, and you’ve gotta win games on the road to get in the playoffs, and certainly our guys responded to what we were talking about,” Blades head coach Dean Brockman said.
The Blades’ win gave the team a 0.500 record. They now sit in fourth place in the WHL’s East division, ahead of the Regina Pats based on winning percentage. The two teams hold the Eastern Conference’s first and second wildcard playoff spots, respectively.
The Raiders remain in the division’s sixth spot and out of playoff contention.
Prince Albert controlled the tempo and physicality for the first period, jumping out to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes. In addition to Parker Kelly’s powerplay goal, depth players Eric Pearce and Carson Miller kept momentum on the Raiders’ side.
Miller and fellow third liner Spencer Moe were instrumental in driving the Raiders’ physical, chippy play in the first period; it proved effective in shutting down the Blades’ transition speed out of their zone and in agitating Saskatoon’s skaters.
Prince Albert’s forwards also found success in clogging Saskatoon’s play through the neutral zone.
The shot count was 21-12 for the Raiders after the first frame.
The Blades began swinging momentum back in their favour in the second period. They settled down their play, started playing more defensively and chose to skate away from some of the post-whistle scraps with the Raiders.
After his team cut the deficit to one, Paterson scored his second goal of the game at 17:53 to tie it at 3-3.
“He’s just coming back from Christmas and seems to be playing harder on the puck,” Brockman said of the 18-year-old.
After netting his hat trick in the third period, Paterson set up what would be the game-winning goal at 14:01. His cross-ice pass through two Raiders defenders and each P.A. faceoff circle found a streaking Braylon Shmyr on the wide of goalie Ian Scott. Shmyr potted the winner past a stretched-out Scott.
“He’s got some confidence going now, and definitely when you have confidence like that, good things are going to happen,” Brockman said of Paterson.
The top-line skater attributed his success to his linemates – Shmyr and Chase Wouters – and to playing the puck “in the dirty areas.” He’s scored eight of his 16 total goals this year in December.
Despite his team’s loss, Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said he liked his team’s compete- and effort-levels throughout the game.
“They were into it. I thought we deserved a better fate tonight. It was one of those nights that the puck wouldn’t go in.
“I thought their goaltender was real good, especially in the second period – he made some key saves when we could have stretched the lead to maybe put the game out of reach, and he enabled them to hang around,” he said.
“Then they tied it and they got real interested, and we made a couple mistakes that ended up costing us.”
P.A. forward Brett Leason scored his team’s fourth goal 18:18 of the third period, but it wasn’t enough, because soon after Shmyr scored an empty-net goal with 46 seconds left in the game.
The Raiders (13-16-5-2) are off on Friday.
They next play on Saturday at home against the Regina Pats (17-18-3-0) at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
Before the start of Thursday’s game, the Raiders played a short commemorative video on the scoreboard of the Art Hauser Centre to honour the late Johnny Bower.
Bower was born in Prince Albert. He played his junior hockey with the hometown Black Hawks before embarking on a pro career in the NHL, during which he backstopped the Toronto Maple Leafs to their four most recent Stanley Cup championships in the 1960s.
Bower died of pneumonia on Dec. 26. He was 93 years old.