A sluggish first period gave the Prince Albert Raiders some extra motivation Friday night in Lethbridge.
Down 1-0 after being outshot badly in the opening 20 minutes by the host Hurricanes, the Raiders controlled the rest of the evening at the Enmax Centre as they improved to 7-0 to start the 2018-19 Western Hockey League season with a 5-1 triumph.
“We’re certainly happy with our last two periods as we played more of our game,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “We had some penalty trouble early on and Lethbridge was fired up to try and beat us.
“They had us on our heels but it’s a good thing that it’s a 60-minute game as I felt our guys responded well the rest of the night.”
The play of Ian Scott and the performance of the Raiders penalty kill unit was key in Friday’s triumph.
Although he gave up a first period goal to Taylor Ross, Scott was stellar the rest of the way as he made 35 saves for his sixth win of the year.
Meanwhile, the Raiders kept the Hurricanes power play unit off the scoresheet on all eight of their attempts.
“Your goalie has to be your best penalty killer and Ian certainly was that for us early on,” Habscheid said. “Our killers did a great job all night long as well, especially with the five-on-three situations that they found themselves in.
“Lethbridge is probably the most physical team that we have faced so far this year and I think our guys realized that after the first period. We upped our level of play and we were able to showcase our speed and our depth as the game went on.”
Noah Gregor scored his first two goals as a member of the Raiders and also had an assist to lead the way on offence.
Cole Fonstad found the back of the net twice in the third period, while Parker Kelly dished out a pair of helpers.
Sergei Sapego got the offence going in the second frame, as he has now recorded a point in all seven games the Raiders have played in.
“He’s an all-around good guy and he’s got some really good skill to go with it,” Habscheid said of the Belarussian.
“Sergei’s also a gritty player with a bit of an edge to his game, and that’s what makes him dangerous.”
Reece Klassen turned aside 35 shots for the Hurricanes, who now have a 2-3 record and have lost two straight games.
The Raiders will continue their Alberta road trip Saturday night as they’ll take on the 4-2 Red Deer Rebels at 7 p.m.
While the WHL’s website only goes as far back as the 1996-97 season, DropYourGloves.com’s archives shows that the Raiders best start since moving up to major junior was an 8-0 run during the 1985-86 campaign.
In their attempt to the defend the Memorial Cup, the Raiders posted a 52-17-3 record to finish second in the East Division, but lost in the conference finals to the Medicine Hat Tigers in seven games.
Sapego has three goals and five assists in his WHL best seven game point streak, which is one more than the six-game runs that Alexander Alexeyev (Red Deer Rebels) and Joachim Blichfeld (Portland Winterhawks) are currently on.
Forward Jakob Brook did not dress for the Raiders Friday, along with blueliners Konrad Belcourt and Lane Kirk.
Defenceman Igor Merezhko was not in the lineup for the Hurricanes, in addition to forwards Zach Cox and Hayden Clayton.
Ahead of Friday’s game, the Hurricanes parted ways with one-time Raiders blueliner Tyler Lowe and waved import netminder Akira Schmid.
A prospect of the New Jersey Devils, Schmid gave up seven goals in his only start for the Hurricanes last weekend in an 8-4 loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The most notable move in recent days involved potential Regina Pats overage defender Cale Fleury, as he signed an entry level contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
Fleury, who is from Carlyle and is expected to start off his pro career with the AHL’s Laval Rocket this weekend, has put up 127 points in 239 games over the last four seasons with the Kootenay Ice and the Pats.
Meanwhile, the following players have been released from their WHL clubs.
- Matthew Armitage (Calgary Hitmen)
- Tristyn DeRoose (Moose Jaw Warriors)
- Gilian Kohler (Kootenay Ice)
- Bryce Platt (Regina Pats – Now with the Estevan Bruins)
- Orca Wiesblatt (Calgary Hitmen)
- Moose Jaw 3 Brandon 2 (Josh Brook – Overtime Winner and Two Assist)
- Regina 6 Swift Current 5 (Nick Henry – Three Assists)
- Saskatoon 3 Calgary 0 (Dorrin Luding 42-Save Shutout – Second of his career and first with the Blades)
- Kootenay 5 Edmonton 4 (Peyton Krebs – Shootout Winner and Two Assists)
- Portland 5 Kamloops 3 (Joachim Blichfeld – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Vancouver 3 Prince George 0 (David Tendeck 24-Save Shutout – Fourth Career Shutout)
- Victoria 4 Kelowna 3 (Dante Hannoun – Two Goals)
- Medicine Hat 3 Spokane 2 (Josh Williams Shootout Winner – Mads Sogaard 39 Saves)
- Everett 2 Seattle 1 (Connor Dewar – Overtime Winner and One Assist – Cole Schwebius 39 Saves)
Saturday Pre-Game Notes
After dropping their opening two games of the season, the Rebels have rattled off four straight wins heading into Saturday night and are now three points back of the Edmonton Oil Kings for the top spot in the Central Division.
The Raiders won three of four contest against the Rebels last season, with their only loss coming in a 4-3 overtime affair at the Art Hauser Centre on Jan. 30.
Rebels overage forward Brandon Hagel leads the WHL in assists with 10 and is tied with Joachim Blichfeld (Portland Winterhawks), Kirby Dach (Saskatoon Blades) and Trey Fix-Wolansky (Edmonton Oilers) for the league scoring lead with 13 points.
Third year blueliner Carson Sass, who has played in five games this season, is currently listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury after being hit by Calgary’s Tristen Nielsen last Sunday.
- Swift Current vs. Moose Jaw – 7 p.m.
- Brandon vs. Regina – 7 p.m.
- Saskatoon vs. Lethbridge – 7 p.m.
- Kelowna vs. Seattle – 7 p.m.
- Victoria vs. Kamloops – 8 p.m.
- Vancouver vs. Prince George – 8 p.m.
- Edmonton vs. Spokane – 8 p.m.
- Medicine Hat vs. Tri-City – 8 p.m.
- Portland vs. Everett – 8 p.m.