It was a big night in a number of ways for the Prince Albert Raiders.
For starters, they reached the 50-win mark for just the fourth time since coming into the Western Hockey League in 1982 as they picked up a 2-1 shootout victory over the Red Deer Rebels at the Art Hauser Centre.
With six games left in the regular season, the East Divsion champions are also a single point away from winning the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for the first time since 1985 and can clinch home ice through the playoffs as soon as Saturday night when they visit the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“Obviously we’re all pretty happy,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “It’s not easy to win 50 games in a 68 game schedule, so we’re really proud of what the guys have accomplished, especially tonight when we were down two 19-year-olds (Max Martin and Parker Kelly) in a playoff-like game.”
“At the start of the season, we knew that we had a good chance to do something special,” Raiders goaltender Ian Scott said. “This is just another step towards what our ultimate goal is.”
The Raiders can also clinch the regular season title if the Vancouver Giants lose to the Kamloops Blazers Saturday and if the Everett Silvertips drop a decision to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Friday’s contest against the Rebels was a tightly played affair all the way through, as Scott and Ethan Anders were locked in a goalie duel.
The Raiders broke the tie with 10:31 left in the third period as Noah Gregor scored on the power play, but the Rebels would respond with 5:39 to go in regulation as Brandon Hagel found the back of the net for the 100th time in his WHL career.
“There was a lot of intensity out there, but we knew that it would be like that coming into the game as Red Deer is fighting for their playoff lives,” Raiders captain Brayden Pachal said. “The crowd was into it and that was huge in a tight game like that one.
“It was too bad that we let them back into the game on that goal in the third, especially when we limited to them to three shots, but I thought we wore them down quite a bit. With our speed, it’s tough for other teams to try and match that for three periods and that really puts a toll on any team.”
In the shootout, Cameron Hausinger scored in the second round to keep the Rebels hopes alive after Gregor and Dante Hannoun both scored for the Raiders and Hagel was turned aside by Scott.
Brett Leason would seal the deal in the third round as he went bar down on Anders to improve the hosts record to 50-8-2-2.
“That was a good game as you’ll see all year,” Habscheid said. “It was scoreless for a long time and all of a sudden it was a 1-1 game.
“That had a playoff feel to it and our guys were able to stay with it. There was some good hockey on both sides.”
Although their two game win streak came to an end on Friday, the 31-24-4-2 Rebels did earn a valuable point to move one marker ahead of the Medicine Hat Tigers and two points in front of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the race for the two Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference.
Anders played a huge role in securing that point as he turned aside 39 shots, with 17 of those saves coming in the final frame.
“He was incredible out there, especially in the third period,” Hagel said. “We can’t think enough for everything he did tonight to keep us in the game.
“We’re the type of team that can’t take any time off here in the last couple of weeks. We need to play a full 60 minutes the rest of the way if we want to make the playoffs.”
Scott made 23 saves for the Raiders as he picked up his 34th win of the campaign.
Following Saturday’s trip to Moose Jaw, the Raiders will begin a three games in six days series with the Swift Current Broncos with a 7 p.m. contest at the Art Hauser Centre Tuesday.
It’s rare for a former Saskatoon Blades player to get a round of applause at the Art Hauser Centre.
However, the ovation that Wendel Clark received Friday was for a great reason, as he accepted the Raiders’ Wall of Honour induction for his brother Donn, who was unable to attend the game as he’s currently battling cancer.
A player with the team from 1982-83, Clark was the head coach of the Raiders from 1993-95 and served in that role again from 2000-02.
He was also the Raiders’ director of hockey operations and general manager from 2001-08 and helped to build the roster for the 2004-05 side that made it to the Eastern Conference final.
Friday’s win marked the first shootout victory for the Raiders since March 2, 2018, when they picked up a 5-4 triumph over the Swift Current Broncos on a goal by Parker Kelly in the third round.
The Raiders went 3-1 against the Rebels this year and picked up their second straight season series win over their opponents from the Central Division.
Kelly served the second of a three-game suspension on Friday and Max Martin was out for a fifth straight game with an upper body injury.
Defencemen Hunter Donohoe and Chase Leslie did not dress for the Rebels, along with forward Dallon Melin.
- Lethbridge 5 Moose Jaw 0 (Jake Elmer – One Goal and Two Assists – Extends His Goal Scoring Streak to 11 Straight Games – Carl Tetachuk – 35 Saves – Second Shutout This Season)
- Saskatoon 4 Regina 0 (Dawson Davidson – Two Assists – Nolan Maier – 19 Saves – Third Shutout This Season and Fifth Career)
- Calgary 3 Brandon 2 (Riley Stotts Overtime Winner – Jiri Patera – 39 Saves)
- Kootenay 5 Swift Current 3 (Connor McClennon – Two Goals)
- Edmonton 4 Medicine Hat 2 (Trey Fix-Wolansky – Two Goals)
- Seattle 6 Kamloops 4 (Noah Philp – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Spokane 5 Portland 2 (Riley Woods – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Vancouver 7 Kelowna 4 (Milos Roman – One Goal and Three Assists)
- Victoria 4 Prince George 3 (Kody McDonald – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Everett 2 Tri-City 1 (Beck Warm – 60 Saves)
Saturday’s meeting at Mosaic Place is the final one of the regular season between the provincial rivals, with the Raiders holding a 4-1 advantage over the Warriors.
Parker Kelly will serve the final contest in his three game suspension, while Max Martin is expected to be scratch once again as he recovers from an injury.
Following a 5-0 shutout setback against the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Friday, the 34-18-6-2 Warriors find themselves in a two-game losing streak but still have a 10-point lead over the Brandon Wheat Kings for third place in the East Division.
They also have two games in hand on the Saskatoon Blades but are now 12 points behind them in the race for second spot.
Warriors forward Brayden Tracey is making a great first impression on the WHL as he leads all rookies in the league in goals (31), assists (42) and points (73).
He’s also 13th among all WHL players in scoring as he tries to be the first freshman play to crack the top ten in points since Martin Hanzal (Red Deer) and Mark Santorelli (Chilliwack) accomplished that feat in the 2006-07 campaign.
- Lethbridge vs. Regina – 2:30 p.m. (Aired Nationally on Sportsnet)
- Prince Albert vs. Moose Jaw – 7 p.m.
- Brandon vs. Edmonton – 8 p.m.
- Calgary vs. Kootenay – 8 p.m.
- Swift Current vs. Medicine Hat – 8:30 p.m.
- Vancouver vs. Kamloops – 9 p.m.
- Portland vs. Kelowna – 9 p.m.
- Spokane vs. Tri-City – 9 p.m.
- Prince George vs. Victoria – 9 p.m.
- Seattle vs. Everett – 9 p.m.