Thunderbirds take care of Raiders

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Seattle Thunderbirds forward Jaxan Kaluski celebrates after recording his first career WHL hat trick in a 4-1 win over the Prince Albert Raiders Wednesday.

After opening the season with a 17-0 record at the Art Hauser Centre, the Prince Albert Raiders have now lost three of their last four games on home ice.

The most recent setback came Wednesday evening as the 35-5-0-1 Raiders were upset by the 13-21-4-0 Seattle Thunderbirds by a score of 4-1.

“We weren’t very good,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said after the game. “They wanted it more and they were a lot more desperate than we were.

“Every time we got touched or hit, our guys looked at them like ‘What are you doing?” We’ve talked a lot this year about this group not having big shotitis, but I think we saw a little bit of that tonight. We got what we deserved.”

Although the Raiders carried the majority of the play in the opening frame, the Thunderbirds dominated the second stanza as they outshot the top ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League by a 21-11 margin.

“I thought we were okay in the first period, but then we got outworked and pushed around in the second,” Habscheid said.

“We didn’t responded well to that. The guys had a reaction like ‘You can’t hit us.” Well they did hit us and we didn’t do anything about it.”

Leading the charge for the Thunderbirds was 19-year-old forward Jaxan Kaluski.

The Lloydminster, Alta. product scored three times in the middle frame to record his first ever Western Hockey League hat trick in his 100th career game.

“I felt pretty good after that first goal (when he fired a top-corner shot past Ian Scott) and then I got a bit of a lucky bounce on the second,” Kaluski said. “That really started to get my confidence going, and then Noah Philp made an unbelievable play that allowed me to score that third goal.

“I think the game really started to turn in our favour during the first period. We were all over them and used the body to create space out there, which we took advantage of as the second period wore on.”

Matthew Wedman would round out the scoring for the Thunderbirds with an empty net goal in the final minute, while Meadow Lake’s Roddy Ross thrilled a busload of fans that came to watch their hometown hero in action as he made 32 saves for his second career win.

Wednesday’s triumph was a big one for the Thunderbirds, as they are battling it out with the Kamloops Blazers and the Prince George Cougars for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“To get a win like this here in Prince Albert is something that we believe can be a real turning point for our season,” Kaluski said.

“We got ourselves in a hole to start the year, but we have a lot deeper roster now after the trades we’ve made lately and we’re all motivated to make that push into the playoffs.”

As for the Raiders, who got their lone goal from Jeremy Masella and received a 30-save showing from Scott, they will now gear up for a pair of home games with the Portland Winterhawks and the Calgary Hitmen on Friday and Saturday night.

“We’ve now lost three of our last four games at home, which isn’t a good thing,” Habscheid said. “Our record is good, but other teams are coming in here and treating this like it’s a big game for them.”

“They are pushing us around and we’re thinking like things will just happen for us right now. Well it ain’t happening. Hard work beats talent and the other teams are working harder than us at the moment.”

Post-Game Notes

The Thunderbirds have now won three straight games over the Raiders at the Art Hauser Centre, with their last loss coming in a 3-0 contest on Nov. 9, 2012.

Kaluski’s hat trick was the sixth by a Thunderbirds player this year. Zack Andrusiak had a trio of them before being traded to the Everett Silvertips this month, while Nolan Volcan and Philp have also recorded three-goal nights.

Sean Montgomery moved into second on the all-time Raiders games played list Wednesday as he suited up for his 319th career games and jumped ahead of defenceman Shane Zulyniak, who played for the team from 1990-95.

Barring injury or suspension, Montgomery would surpass Brett Novak’s record of 330 games on Feb. 8 during a road game against the Calgary Hitmen.

With goaltender Brett Balas being sent down to the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks earlier this week, blueliner Lane Kirk was the only scratch for the Raiders Wednesday.

The Thunderbirds did not dress blueliners Cade McNelly and Loeden Schaufler, along with forwards Dillon Hamaliuk, Cody Savey, Samuel Huo and Graeme Bryks.

Wednesday’s Scores

  • Calgary 3 Moose Jaw 2 (Josh Prokop Shootout Winner – Jack McNaughton – 33 Saves)
  • Portland 5 Regina 2 (Jake Gricius – One Goal and Two Assists)
  • Red Deer 3 Swift Current 2 (Isaac Poulter – 34 Saves)
  • Lethbridge 3 Kootenay 2 (Jesse Makaj – 51 Saves)
  • Everett 4 Kelowna 2 (Connor Dewar – One Goal and Two Assists)
  • Spokane 3 Prince George 2 (Ty Smith – One Goal and One Assist)
  • Victoria 5 Kamloops 3 (Kody McDonald – Two Goals)

Around the WHL

Business offically picked up on the trade market Wednesday in the Western Hockey League as the Portland Winterhawks acquired Swift Current Broncos starting netminder Joel Hofer for six draft picks, including a pair of first rounders.

Hofer, who is 18 years of age and was drafted by the St. Louis Blues last June, has a 6-21-3 record with a 4.02 goals against average, a .904 save percentage and a shutout in his first full season as a starter.

Shane Farkas, 19, has been the starter for the Winterhawks this year and has compiled a 24-9-5 mark with a 2.86 goals against average, a .901 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Broncos later signed former Red Deer Rebels netminder Riley Lamb, who had compiled a 10-15-3 record with a 3.43 goals against average, a .910 save percentage and three shutouts in his 20-year-old season in the SJHL with the Weyburn Red Wings and Yorkton Terriers, to join 17-year-old Isaac Poulter on the roster.

Meanwhile, former Prince Albert Raiders goaltender Curtis Meger has signed with the Kootenay Ice for the rest of the season.

The 20-year-old from Regina had a 4-13-0 record with a 4.19 goals against average and a .887 save percentage this year for the AJHL’s Lloydminster Bobcats.

Tuesday’s other moves saw the Brandon Wheat Kings deal overage defenceman Sachel Higson (3-14-17) to the Kelowna Rockets for fellow 20-year-old blueliner Braydyn Chizen (1-2-3), while the Ice acquired 18-year-old Brenden Kwiatkowski (0-2-2) from the Moose Jaw Warriors for a draft pick.

Teams have until 3 p.m. mountain time (4 p.m. in Prince Albert) Thursday to make a trade.