With Aliaksei Protas and Sergei Sapego set to compete for Belarus at the IIHF Division I World Juniors in Germany, plus the upcoming loss of Brett Leason and Ian Scott to Canada’s World Junior selection camp, the Prince Albert Raiders are looking for players to step up in their absence.
Enter forwards Cole Fonstad and Noah Gregor.
The pair, who were joined on their line by rookie Ozzy Wiesblatt Saturday, were the key difference makers for the Raiders as they improved to 14-0 at the Art Hauser Center with a 5-2 win over the Brandon Wheat Kings.
“They are both intelligent guys that like to freelance out there, and it sometimes takes a little bit for guys with those tendencies to gel with each other,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said.
“They are smart enough to figure each other out and I think you’ve seen that here in the last couple of games.”
Gregor led the offence with a goal and three assists, as the San Jose Sharks prospect was able to score for the 100th time in his WHL career after he converted a pass from Brett Leason in the third period.
“That’s a pretty cool accomplishment to have after being in the league for awhile,” Gregor said.
“I thought we had two strong games against Brandon after that loss to Swift Current (on Tuesday night). The key things that ‘Habby’ really focussed in on with us was being relentless and having a crispness to our game, which I think we showed over the last two nights.”
For Fonstad, Saturday’s two-goal performance was the fifth in his WHL career as the Montreal Canadiens draft pick extended his point streak to six games.
“Things didn’t go as well as I would have liked at the start of the year in trying to help contribute on offence,” Fonstad said. “It’s been nice to start making plays again, feel more confident with the puck and build chemistry with my linemates.
“Once you have a good idea of where the other guys are out on the ice, everyone just starts to get rolling and it makes things a lot easier.”
Max Martin and Leason both had a pair of helpers in the win, as Leason extended his point streak to 30 games and matched a run that Jordan Kyrou had with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting during the 2016-17 season.
Sean Montgomery and Kody McDonald also scored for the 28-1-0-1 Raiders, who received a 39-save performance from Ian Scott.
Although the Wheat Kings were without a number of players due to injuries and suspensions, they turned in a strong showing against the Raiders and were kept in the game by an excellent 42-save outing by Vegas Golden Knights draft pick Jiri Patera.
“I have to give Brandon credit,” Habscheid said. “They came out on the aggressive and they were in our face, which we didn’t handle all that well in the first period as we were getting frustrated after the whistles with them.
“The main message in the intermission was to play between the whistles and be aggressive, but to also play the right way. We were able to do that and started to tilt things back into our favour.”
Linden McCorrister and Luka Burzan scored for the 14-9-3-3 Wheat Kings, who have lost two straight games and are a point ahead of the Medicine Hat Tigers for the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Next up for the league-leading Raiders is a trip to Saskatoon Sunday for a 4 p.m. tilt with the Blades as they’ll look to spoil their annual Teddy Bear Toss game.
Following that encounter, the Raiders will host the Edmonton Oil Kings Wednesday before a home-and-home set with the Swift Current Broncos next weekend in their last games before Christmas.
The biggest crowd of the season took in Saturday’s game as 3,107 fans entered the Art Hauser Centre.
The last time the attendance figure eclipsed the 3,000 mark was when 3,033 spectators attended last season’s regular season home finale against the Saskatoon Blades on March 16.
A total of 3,017 fans came to Game 5 of the 2016 Eastern Conference quarter-final matchup with the Moose Jaw Warriors, while 3,299 spectators were in the building for the 2015-16 regular season finale against the Blades.
Raiders captain Brayden Pachal had an assist Saturday to increase his point streak to five games, which matches a career high set earlier this season in a span that lasted from Nov. 16-24.
In addition to Protas and Sapego, who will make their debut at the Division I World Juniors Sunday at 1 p.m. Saskatchewan time against Norway, Lane Kirk did not dress for the Raiders Saturday.
With Braden Schneider, Jonny Lambos, Chase Hartje, Jonny Hooker and Lynden McCallum all out due to injuries, and Cole Reinhardt serving a one-game suspension for a boarding major penalty and a game misconduct he received for a hit on Pachal Friday in Brandon, the Wheat Kings called up forward Bode Hagan for his WHL debut Saturday.
An eighth round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, the 16-year-old from Alisike, Alta. has 32 points in 18 games this year for the OHA Edmonton prep school program.
- Saskatoon 5 Moose Jaw 3 (Josh Paterson – One Goal and One Assist)
- Edmonton 3 Kamloops 2 (Trey Fix-Wolansky Overtime Winner – Dylan Ferguson – 37 Saves)
- Medicine Hat 4 Regina 2 (Ryan Jevne – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Red Deer 6 Swift Current 2 (Brandon Hagel – Two Goals and Two Assists)
- Portland 3 Prince George 0 (Shane Farkas – 22 Saves – Second Shutout This Season and Fifth Career)
- Everett 2 Seattle 1 (Dustin Wolf – 43 Saves)
- Spokane 4 Kootenay 3 (Eli Zummack Overtime Winner – Peyton Krebs and Jaeger White – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Tri-City 8 Lethbridge 7 (Isaac Johnson Overtime Winner – Jake Elmer – Three Goals and Two Assists – First Career Hat Trick)
- Vancouver 2 Victoria 1 (Jared Dmytriw Overtime Winner – Griffen Outhouse – 36 Saves)
Following their win in Moose Jaw Saturday, the Blades are second in the East Division standings with an 18-10-3-0 record, but are 18 points behind the Raiders.
Sunday’s contest is the third of the season between the East Division rivals, with the Raiders coming out on top in a 4-1 contest on Sept. 30 in Prince Albert and a 6-2 affair on Oct. 14 in Saskatoon.
This marks the second straight season that the Raiders have visited Saskatoon for the Blades’ Teddy Bear Toss game, as Cameron Hebig scored five minutes into the first period in his team’s 3-2 victory on Dec. 10, 2017.
Blades blueliner Jake Kustra is out for one-to-three weeks according to the WHL’s weekly report after he crashed feet first into the boards while battling for the puck against the Raiders on Oct. 14.
Saskatoon will also be without forward Kristian Roykas Marthinsen, as the Washington Capitals draft pick is playing for Norway at the IIHF Division I World Juniors in Germany.
- Kamloops vs. Calgary – 3 p.m.
- Prince Albert vs. Saskatoon – 4 p.m.
- Spokane vs. Everett – 6 p.m.