Raiders wrap up pre-season on a winning note

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Brett Leason was all smiles after scoring a goal in the first period of Saturday's 5-2 pre-season win for the Prince Albert Raiders over the Saskatoon Blades.

The exhibition slate doesn’t mean much in the Western Hockey League.

However, the Prince Albert Raiders hope that a pair of wins this weekend will give them some extra confidence ahead of their regular season opener Friday against the Regina Pats.

“I thought that at the beginning of the pre-season that we were a little bit clustered out there as we were all getting used to the systems,” Raiders blueliner and assistant captain Zack Hayes said.

“As we progressed, we got more structured and that really showed with our two wins this weekend, especially in Regina as they’ve been our kryptonite the last couple of years.”

Following a 5-2 win over the Pats on the road Friday, the Raiders matched that result Saturday as they topped the Saskatoon Blades to finish the pre-season with a 2-2-0-1 mark.

“It’s always nice to get those results as it builds the chemistry and the confidence with the guys, even though it’s the pre-season,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said.

“We want to be a quick team and I think that was pretty evident with how we played tonight. We were fast on the puck and did a lot of good things, plus our structure was a lot better, which is what you expect at this point in the pre-season.”

Brett Leason and Spencer Moe both had a pair of goals for the Raiders in the victory, with Leason’s markers coming on a penalty kill and a power play in the opening frame.

“Brett’s a big guy with a great shot, but he’s really playing with a lot of pace for us,” Leason said. “(Strength and conditioning coach) Terry Lange does a good job with the guys in the gym and Brett’s also put in a lot of work this summer to get ready for the new year.”

Justin Nachbaur, who finished tied with Leason and Moe for the pre-season team scoring lead with seven points, had a pair of helpers in the win.

Max Martin also scored for the Raiders, while Donovan Buskey made his third start of the pre-season Saturday and turned aside 21 shots.

Blueliners Aidan De La Gorgendiere and Emil Malysjev both scored for the visitors, who received a 30-save performance from Nolan Maier.

The Blades, who finished the pre-season with a 6-1 mark, lost the services of forward Brandon Machado during Saturday’s contest with an apparent shoulder injury following a hit during the second period.

Next up for the Raiders is a home-and-home series with the Pats to start off the 2018-19 regular season, which will begin Friday at the Art Hauser Centre before a visit to the Brandt Centre Saturday.

Although the Raiders are looking to snap a 15-game losing streak against the Pats that dates back to Sept. 23, 2016, Habscheid isn’t thinking too far ahead yet.

“Right now the only thing on my mind is breakfast Sunday morning,” Hasbcheid joked. “That’s about it at this point.”