Stubborn Raiders stymie Warriors 4-3

Prince Albert Raiders captain Curtis Miske (18) scores on Moose Jaw Warriors goalie Brody Willms in the second period of the teams' Jan. 13, 2018 WHL game from Prince Albert. -- Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

The Prince Albert Raiders’ pension line cashed in.

Saturday night against the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Raiders’ trio of 20-year-olds – Curtis Miske, Regan Nagy and Jordy Stallard – combined for seven total points in a 4-3 Western Hockey League win over the top-ranked south Saskatchewan club.

“It’s a huge stroke to our confidence to beat a team like this – they’re (ranked) second in the Canadian Hockey League,” Miske said after the win. According to its most recent country-wide junior team rankings, the CHL slotted the Warriors at number 2 overall.

Along with Miske’s goal and two assists, Stallard scored twice and had one helper, while Nagy notched an assist.

Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid grouped the three over-agers together as the team’s top line of forwards. “They call us the pension line,” Miske joked after the game.

“They’re both terrific players – I give the puck to Stallard and he scores from every which way, it seems. And Nagy had a hell of a game tonight, too,” he said.

Moose Jaw Warriors goalie Brody Willms (35) steers the puck away from his net while a Warriors defenceman checks Raiders centreman Kody McDonald (28) during the teams’ Jan. 13, 2018 WHL game from Prince Albert. — Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

Newly acquired centreman Kody McDonald proved to have the finishing touch the Raiders needed to ice the Warriors. He scored what would be the game-winning goal on the powerplay at 7:55 of the third period.

As Stallard moved the puck at the top of the Warriors’ left faceoff circle, he aimed and passed the black rubber at McDonald’s waiting stick, right at the top of goalie Brody Willms’ crease.

McDonald backhanded the tip shot just past Willms’ outstretched right leg for his team’s fourth and final goal.

One week to the day, McDonald – acquired in a trade with Prince George for Rhett Rhinehart and Austin Crossley – had the game-winning overtime goal against Red Deer.

Unlike their 4-0 loss to the Swift Current Broncos the night prior, the Raiders grabbed momentum early on Saturday. Right from the opening faceoff, the P.A. club shut down the Warriors’ top offensive skaters, like Brett Howden, Jayden Halbgewachs and Tanner Jeannot.

Raiders defencemen Zack Hayes, Vojtech Budik, Brayden Pachal and the rest of their unit systematically boxed out the Warriors’ shooters. They also made a habit of blocking shots and steering Moose Jaw’s skaters to the perimeter of their defensive zone.

Stable goaltending from netminder Curtis Meger didn’t hurt either. The Regina native stopped 19 of the 22 shots he faced from the Warriors, including a couple crucial breakaway shots from the Warriors.

“I thought we dominated for most of the night,” Meger said, giving the nod to his team’s work in the defensive zone.

Prince Albert Raiders and Moose Jaw Warriors skaters scramble for the puck in front of Raiders goalie Curtis Meger (center) during the teams’ Jan. 13, 2018 WHL game from Prince Albert. — Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

“They were amazing. On second and third chances, I couldn’t control my rebounds on some, but they were there clearing pucks all night. And passes in front from behind the net, they were clearing everything and tying up sticks. They were a huge part for our success tonight.”

In terms of dominating the game, “that was the mentality we wanted to have going into tonight, and I think overall we did that,” he said.

A large part of that had to do with with building off the momentum the Raiders created in the final period of their Friday night loss to the Broncos, according to Habscheid.

“We deserved to win the game. I thought we outplayed that team last night, and we didn’t get it done. Tonight we got rewarded, and good on them,” he said.

“I thought our group from top to bottom was really good, and I thought our three over-agers (20-year-olds) were our best players.”

Habscheid agreed that the win is indicative of the Raiders’ abilities against any team in the WHL, but he cautioned, “we don’t have a lot of margin for error. That’s a good team, just like last night.

“Not every time are guys going to have their best game. So we know that, but it doesn’t matter. We have some points to make up, and we can’t pick and choose who we get the points against.

“Every game from here on in, we’ve got to win.”

The Raiders (16-19-6-2) remain in sixth spot in the WHL’s East Division. They’re seven points back of the Saskatoon Blades and ten points back of the Regina Pats. They’ll need to catch either of those two teams in the standings for a wildcard playoff spot.

The Raiders are off for the next three days. They host the Pats (23-19-4-0) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.