If there was any hint of a waning rivalry between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Saskatoon Blades, both teams put the kibosh on that notion.
The Western Hockey League clubs squared off Friday night in Prince Albert, in the literal and the metaphorical sense.
Players from each team fought three different times over the course of the second and third periods, while the two clubs combined for 22 total infractions. Unofficially and not recorded on the WHL scorers sheet, there were about a dozen post-whistle scrums where skaters let their tensions – and their gloved fists – fly.
The Blades emerged victorious after erasing a one-goal deficit in the game’s final seven minutes to win the contest 2-1 in regulation time, snapping an 11-game point streak the Raiders had been riding.
“They scored a five-on-three goal and a power play goal. Our power play didn’t score, so that was the difference,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said of the Blades’ win.
Raiders forward Parker Kelly got his team on the scoreboard with a short-handed, breakaway goal that beat Blades goalie Tyler Brown on his high blocker side. That was in the first period’s final minute.
After that, Brown and the Blades held the Raiders off the scoreboard while sticking to their physical, chippy style of play. The Raiders responded with fisticuffs.
A scoreless second period saw two fights – Justin Nachbaur versus Jake Kustra at 10:21, and then Kody McDonald versus Mark Rubinchik at 14:46 – along with plenty of love-taps, jabs and high elbows not called or unseen by the game’s officials.
“They came out and they were chippy all game,” Habscheid said of the Blades. “Play hard, but don’t play stupid. That was stupid.
“They’re out there, they’ve got nothing to play for. I mean play hard, but play with class, too.
“I have no idea what their strategy was, but it wasn’t a great game.”
The fighting and the rough play continued into the third period. Both McDonald and Kustra fought again – each other – at 4:46.
The Blades eventually got on the scoreboard, twice, both on the power play to win the game.
Max Gerlach scored a five-on-three power play goal to tie the game at 1-1 at 14:37. Then at 18:19 Chase Wouters scored a nifty backhand shot that beat a screened Ian Scott to put the Blades up 2-1 for the win.
In his assessment of the game, Blades head coach Dean Brockman said the physical, chippy play is to be expected in light of the Raiders-Blades rivalry.
“It had a pretty good atmosphere with the full crowd. Guys fed off the energy of the crowd,” he said. “I wish our guys would have played like that probably a month ago. They got into it, and like I said, it’s our rival so you expect some of it. When you play each other so many times, you’re going to have a little bit of that.”
The game ended with more chippy play, shoving, tussling and a few punches thrown in both directions. A Raiders skater spearing a Blades skater in the groin put the final stamp on the night’s rough play.
Despite that, Brockman was optimistic about his team’s win, noting that the Blades had some extra incentives.
“I think you can put the chip on our block a little bit. (The Raiders) took our playoff spot, we feel. And that’s a part of maybe the chippiness tonight.
“Obviously, we want to do well. Guys still want to make impressions and go into the summer feeling good about themselves.
“You throw into the equation that P.A. hasn’t lost in regulation in 11 or 12 games, who doesn’t want to try and match that or try and beat that? That was another motivation for us to play well tonight, and I think tomorrow will be no different.”
The Blades and the Raiders finish their home-and-home series and their regular season play with a 7:05 p.m. game in Saskatoon on Saturday at the SaskTel Centre.