There’s often a play or two that can change the dynamic of a game when a pair of junior hockey rivals meet up.
On Friday night, it was a 10-second sequence late in the second period that proved to be key for the Prince Albert Raiders against the Saskatoon Blades.
After Donovan Buskey sprawled out to make a right pad save on forward Kirby Dach, Cole Fonstad picked up the loose puck and flung it towards Noah Gregor, who raced in sniped a shot by Dorrin Luding with 20.3 seconds left on the clock to tie the game up at two.
“That was pretty crazy,” Gregor said. “I had a breakaway just before that and then they were able to come back down the ice for a scoring chance, but Buskey made a huge save to keep us in it.”
“When Dach got the puck at the hashmarks I was just trying to make myself as big as possible as he came in on net,” Buskey added. “I wasn’t sure who had the puck after I stopped it, but to see Noah go down and score that goal was a great feeling.”
The Raiders would build off of that momentum changer in the third period as Aliaksei Protas scored with 9:27 to go and Fonstad shot the puck into an empty net with 9.1 seconds left to give the team a 4-2 triumph and improve their regular season record to 17-0 at the Art Hauser Centre.
“I thought we were a little bit disjointed out there,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “We weren’t really crisp and we took some penalties at bad times once again, which got us into trouble.
“I didn’t like the first two goals on our goalie (Buskey) but I thought he was really good the rest of the way. That save he made at the end of the second was the turning point for us as it could have easily been a 3-1 lead for them.”
After two sub-par showings against the Swift Current Broncos prior to Christmas, Buskey was solid for the second straight meeting with the Blades as he turned aside 34 shots and earned first star accolades.
“Obviously those two games against Swift Current weren’t what I was expecting for myself,” Buskey said. “I wanted to come back here and play better for the guys as they are always working hard in front of me.
“I think the biggest key for me in these last two games was just sticking with things mentally. If you give up a goal or fumble the puck, you just have to stay focused and make the next save. You can’t let those things rattle you.”
Gregor and Fonstad extended their point streaks to five games Friday as Gregor scored twice and had an assist, while Fonstad had a pair of helpers to go along with his empty net marker.
“Noah probably could have had five goals tonight,” Habscheid said.
“That line (which includes Ozzy Wiesblatt) has had a lot of synergy here as of late and Fonstad’s has had an extra step in his game here since we came back from Christmas.”
The Raiders did receive a scare almost nine minutes into the opening frame as blueliner Max Martin was on the wrong end of a knee-on-knee collision with Blades defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus.
Martin was helped off of the ice following the play, which saw Schuldhaus receive a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct, but he was able to return for the final 40 minutes.
“He was favouring the (right) knee a little bit there as the game went on, but Max is a tough guy and he wanted to play,” Habscheid said. “When you see an older player like that want to keep going out there even though he’s hurting, it really helps to create the culture that we want in the dressing room.”
Gary Haden and Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen scored for the 21-11-5-0 Blades, who are currently mired in a three game losing streak ahead of a road game with the 7-25-2-1 Swift Current Broncos on Sunday afternoon.
Luding turned aside 32 shots for the visitors, while blueliner Dawson Davidson had an assist on Roykas-Marthinsen’s goal as the teammates extended their point streaks to five games.
The 33-2-0-1 Raiders will now prepare to welcome the 11-24-0-1 Regina Pats to town for a 6 p.m. clash Sunday.
The two sides will then square off in Regina at 4 p.m. Tuesday to kick off the 2019 portion of the regular season.
A season high crowd of 3,330 made their way into the Art Hauser Centre for Friday’s contest, which surpassed the total of 3,107 fans that attended a 5-2 win for the Raiders over the Brandon Wheat Kings on Saturday, Dec. 8.
The Raiders did not dress Lane Kirk, Brett Leason and Ian Scott, while Zachary Ashton, Majid Kaddoura and Brandon Machado were the Blades scratches.
- Regina 3 Brandon 2 (Ethan Kruger – 35 Saves)
- Moose Jaw 4 Swift Current 3 (Tristin Langan Overtime Winner – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Edmonton 7 Calgary 3 (Zach Russell – One Goal and One Assist)
- Victoria 6 Lethbridge 2 (Dante Hannoun – Four Goals and One Assist – Third Career Hat Trick)
- Medicine Hat 4 Kootenay 1 (James Hamblin – Two Goals)
- Vancouver 6 Red Deer 0 (David Tendeck – 28 Shots – Second Shutout This Season and Fifth Career – Tristen Nielsen – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Kamloops 3 Kelowna 2 (Zane Franklin Overtime Winner – Two Goals)
- Tri-City 3 Portland 2 (Parker AuCoin -Overtime Winner – Kyle Olson – Two Assists)
- Prince George 2 Seattle 1 (Taylor Gauthier – 29 Saves)
- Everett 3 Spokane 1 (Connor Dewar – Two Goals)
Around the WHL
Overage forward Jared Legien, who had 50 points in 61 games with the Victoria Royals and the Regina Pats, was added to the Vancouver Giants roster this week and recorded a goal and two assists in his debut with the team Friday in a 6-0 win over the Red Deer Rebels.
The Pilot Butte, Sask. product has been playing in the SJHL this season with the Yorkton Terriers and was third in league scoring at the Christmas break with 52 points in 32 games.
Forwards Davis Koch and Jared Dmytriw are the other 20-year-old players in the Giants lineup at the moment as blueliner Matt Barberis has been sidelined with an injury since Nov. 16.
Meanwhile, the Portland Winterhawks acquired the rights to forward Bobby Brink from the Prince George Cougars Friday in exchange for a seventh round pick in 2019, along with conditional second and fourth round picks in 2021.
Brink, a 17-year-old forward from Minnesota, has 33 points in 19 games this season for the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers and was named the MVP of the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alta. earlier this month after leading the United States to a goal medal.
He’s currently committed to the NCAA’s Denver Pioneers and could be a potential first round choice at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver.
The Raiders enter Sunday’s matchup with the Pats with a 4-0 advantage in the season series, with their most recent win coming in a 5-2 affair at the Brandt Centre on Dec. 1.
After a pair of wins over the Brandon Wheat Kings this week, the Pats are now nine points back of the Calgary Hitmen for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
- Edmonton vs. Red Deer – 8 p.m.
- Lethbridge vs. Kootenay – 8 p.m.
- Portland vs. Seattle – 8 p.m.
- Victoria vs. Medicine Hat – 8:30 p.m.
- Kamloops vs. Kelowna – 9 p.m.
- Tri-City vs. Spokane – 9 p.m.
- Prince George vs. Everett – 9 p.m.
- Vancouver vs. Calgary – 3 p.m.
- Moose Jaw vs. Brandon – 4 p.m.
- Saskatoon vs. Swift Current – 4 p.m.
- Red Deer vs. Edmonton – 5 p.m.
- Regina vs. Prince Albert – 6 p.m.
- Medicine Hat vs. Lethbridge – 7 p.m.
- Prince George vs. Kamloops – 7 p.m.