For the first time in 20 years, the Prince Albert Raiders are a 40-win team, but they had to go through some old friends to get there.
Prince Albert skated away with a 4-1 victory over the Victoria Royals, a team that includes former Raiders Kody McDonald, Carson Miller and D-Jay Jerome, during WHL action on Tuesday.
With four former Royals in the Raiders lineup as well, there were plenty of players getting reacquainted with old teammates. However, assistant coach Jeff Truitt said it was all business once the game started.
“They know that when the puck’s dropped, there are no friends (out there) or anything,” said Truitt, who filled in while Raiders coach Marc Habscheid was in Red Deer for the CHL/NHL top prospects game. “The two points were what was important and the 40th win too was something they definitely wanted.”
Despite not having leading scorer Brett Leason, who was also headed to the top prospects game, the Raiders came out firing. Prince Albert outshot Victoria 17-7 in the first period, and capitalized with a pair of goals less than a minute apart.
Justin Nachbaur opened the scoring on the power play first when he fired home a quick wrist shot with 4:58 left in the first. Sean Montgomery then added to the lead just 47 seconds later when he beat Royals goalie Griffen Outhouse on the stick side to make it 2-0.
Despite scoring two goals in the first period, Truitt said he thought his team performed their best in the second and third.
“We gave up the puck in some bad areas of the ice, but you know what, we generated some stuff as well and we hit a couple posts in the first period,” he said. “We got some more traction in the second and third so we managed the puck a little bit better. The power play was good, the penalty kill was good, and Ian Scott came up with a couple of real timely saves for us.”
The Royals wasted no time cutting into the Raider lead once the second period started. Former Raider Jerome wired a shot pasted Ian Scott, who was perfectly screened by McDonald on the play. However the Raiders responded just three-and-a-half minutes later.
Cole Fonstad stole the puck from Royals defenceman Jameson Murray and sifted a soft backhand through Outhouse’s five-hole to make it 3-1. It was the second point of the night for Fonstad, who also assisted Nachbaur’s opening tally, and one of his better overall performances.
“I thought he was one of our best forwards out there tonight,” Truitt said when asked about Fonstad’s play. “He created opportunities, showed his skill and his speed at times in getting some quality shots on net, plus a real good goal that he scored as well. He was an impact guy for us tonight.”
The Raiders had a chance to extend their lead when Parker Kelly drew a penalty shot after being hooked on a breakaway. However, Outhouse coolly turned away Kelly’s attempt, keeping the Royals within two. Neither team scored again in the second.
In the third, Max Martin had what might be the nicest goal of the Raiders’ western road trip. Martin split the Royals defence and roofed a backhand over Outhouse with just over 11 minutes to play, sealing Prince Albert’s victory in the process.
Scott turned aside 20 shots to earn his 28th win of the season. That places him one behind Dustin Wolf of the Everett Silvertips for the WHL lead. Scott’s GAA and save percentage are still tops in the WHL. Outhouse made 27 saves for Victoria in a losing cause.
The victory makes Prince Albert the first CHL club to hit the 40-win mark this season. It also gives them a 3-0-0-1 record so far on their western road trip.
The Royals meanwhile, have now lost five of their last six games and sit just five points up on the Kelowna Rockets for second in the B.C. Division.
The Raiders are back in action on Thursday when they take on the Vancouver Giants at 9:30 CST. The game will be televised nationally on Sportsnet.