“Well, I didn’t see that coming.”
That quote from Regina Pats defenceman Steven Zonneveld as he exited the Art Hauser Centre probably summed up the reaction from many Western Hockey League observers as they checked out Sunday’s scoreboard.
Despite being outshot by a 44-13 margin, the Pats held on for a 2-1 win over the Prince Albert Raiders and handed the top team in the league their first loss at home this season after they had rattled off 17 straight triumphs to start off the campaign.
“We played well towards the end, but we didn’t get the start that we wanted and fell behind by a couple of goals, which certainly got Regina into the game,” Raiders defenceman and captain Brayden Pachal said.
“We turned things up as the game went on, which we needed to do, but weren’t able to comeback and they outworked us a little bit. That’s on us in the leadership group to get the guys excited for every game, or something like this will happen.”
From head coach Marc Habscheid’s perspective, Sunday’s loss was one where the bounces just didn’t go the Raiders way.
“Obviously we didn’t think we’d go undefeated at home all season,” Habscheid said. “You have to give Regina a lot of credit as they blocked a lot of shots, but it was one of those games where the puck deflects off a shin pad and goes wide, or their goalie doesn’t see the shot coming and it ends up going off of him.
“We started a little late and got down 2-0 on a couple of goals that I didn’t like. Once that happened, Regina got some confidence and we were on our heels a little bit. We battled back to get the shots in our favour, but sometimes you get those games where you can’t get anything going.”
Logan Nijhoff gave Regina the lead just 18 seconds into the opening frame when he took advantage of a Donovan Buskey rebound, with Liam Schioler doubling the visitors’ advantage on a blast from the point near the halfway mark of the period.
Noah Gregor would respond a couple of minutes later with his 24th goal of the campaign, but the Raiders were unable to solve Dean McNabb for the rest of the night.
“We were awesome in our end tonight,” McNabb said. “A lot of the shots that I faced were from the outside and our defencemen were doing a great job of boxing everyone out, so that made things pretty easy for me.
“Those last few minutes where we were trying to hold on to the lead was probably one of the most fun moments I’ve been a part of. To be part of something like that where you are competing hard and trying to get the win is what sports are all about.”
Although the Raiders had numerous chances to tie up the game, including a shot from Pachal that sailed just wide of an open net and an out of position McNabb in the final seconds of regulation, one aspect of their game that proved costly in Sunday’s setback was their power play as they went 0-for-7 on the man advantage.
“It was one of those nights where it just felt like the passes were off through the whole game,” Habscheid said. “I’ve been around long enough though to know that those things will happen and you’ll have those games where everything’s not in sync and you have to fight for your chances.”
While the 33-3-0-1 Raiders saw a five-game winning streak come to an end Sunday, the 12-24-0-1 Pats continued their strong run of formfollowing the Christmas break.
Although the team traded away top players Nick Henry, Aaron Hyman and Jake Leschyshyn earlier this month, they have now won three straight games and are nine points back of the Brandon Wheat Kings and the Calgary Hitmen for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“As much as it’s been a fresh start for us after the holidays, we wanted to make sure that the guys learned as much as possible from the first half, both good and bad,” Pats head coach and assistant general manager Dave Struch said.
“One of the things that we like about our organization is that everyone from the ownership on down is focused on the big picture. When you see the guys carrying out the game plan on defence like we did tonight, it bodes well for our future, especially if you look at our position in the standings this year after hosting the Memorial Cup.”
McNabb turned aside 43 shots for his fourth win of the season, while Buskey made 11 saves and suffered his first setback of the campaign.
The East Division rivals will square off for the sixth and final time in the 2018-19 regular season on Tuesday in a 4 p.m. New Year’s Day meeting at the Brandt Centre in Regina.
The Raiders will be back at home Friday to face the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Other than a pair of pre-season setbacks to the Saskatoon Blades earlier this year, the last time the Raiders lost at the Art Hauser Centre was a 2-0 setback in Game 4 of the 2018 WHL Eastern Conference quarter-finals to the Moose Jaw Warriors on March 28.
The last time the Raiders lost a game where they gave up less than 15 shots was on Feb. 17 of this year as they dropped a 4-3 road affair to the Brandon Wheat Kings despite holding a 42-13 shot advantage.
Meanwhile, the Pats’ most recent win where they only had 15 or less attempts on goal came in a 4-2 triumph at home over the Raiders on Jan. 23, 2016 where they were outshot by a 33-15 margin.
Noah Gregor kept his point streak intact by scoring in his sixth straight game Sunday, while his linemate Cole Fonstad saw his five game point streak come to an end.
Lane Kirk, Brett Leason and Ian Scott did not dress for the Raiders, while Ryker Evans, Carter Massier, Sam McGinley, Koby Morrisseau and Garrett Wright did not dress for the Pats.
Around the WHL
Saskatoon Blades defenceman Brandon Schuldhaus did not play for his team on Sunday against the Swift Current Broncos as he served a one-game suspension for his knee-on-knee hit with Raiders blueliner Max Martin Friday.
Schuldhaus, who received a five minute major for kneeing and a game misconduct on the play, was previously suspended for three games to start the 2018-19 season after he received a match penalty for hitting Swift Current Broncos forward Andrew Fyten in the head with his stick while playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors during Game 7 of the 2018 WHL Eastern Conference semifinals.
- Moose Jaw 6 Brandon 2 (Justin Almeida – Two Goals)
- Saskatoon 9 Swift Current 3 (Nolan Kneen – One Goal and Three Assists)
- Calgary 4 Vancouver 0 (Jack McNaughton – 25 Saves – Second Shutout This Season – James Malm – Four Assists)
- Edmonton 5 Red Deer 4 (Trey Fix-Wolansky – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Medicine Hat 5 Lethbridge 4 (Ryan Jevne Shootout Winner – Joel Craven – Two Goals)
- Kamloops 2 Prince George 1 (Dylan Garand – 35 Saves)
- Medicine Hat 4 Victoria 2 (Ryan Chyzowski – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Red Deer 2 Edmonton 1 (Cameron Hausinger Shootout Winner – Ethan Anders – 38 Saves)
- Lethbridge 8 Kootenay 4 (Jake Leschyshyn – Two Goals and Three Assists)
- Kelowna 2 Kamloops 1 (Roman Basran – 33 Saves)
- Portland 8 Seattle 6 (Ryan Hughes – Two Goals and Two Assists – Zack Andrusiak – Four Goals – Third Hat Trick This Season and Fifth Career)
- Spokane 2 Tri-City 1 (Jake McGrew – One Goal and One Assist)
- Everett 6 Prince George 1 (Artyom Minulin – Three Assists)
Around the CHL
Although no big names have been moved in the WHL since the Christmas break, a pair of notable moves have taken place in the OHL and QMJHL.
On Thursday, the Charlottetown Islanders dealt Arizona Coyotes prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar for New Jersey Devils draft pick Xavier Bernard, prospect William Trudeau and three draft picks.
Joseph, a 19-year-old defenceman that was the 23rd overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, was the captain for the Islanders for the last two seasons and had 25 points in 27 games for the team this year.
A day later, the Barrie Colts traded New York Rangers draft pick Joey Keane to the London Knights in exchange for forward Dalton Duhart and three draft picks.
The 19-year-old Keane, who was a third round pick in last year’s NHL Draft, had 20 points in 29 games at the time of Friday’s deal.
- Victoria vs. Kootenay – 5 p.m.
- Brandon vs. Moose Jaw – 7 p.m.
- Seattle vs. Portland – 9 p.m.
- Spokane vs. Tri-City – 9 p.m.
- Swift Current vs. Saskatoon – 2 p.m.
- Victoria vs. Calgary – 2 p.m.
- Vancouver vs. Edmonton – 3 p.m.
- Prince Albert vs. Regina – 4 p.m.