With a 4-1 record in the pre-season, the Prince Albert Raiders have some positive momentum heading into the start of the 2019-20 Western Hockey League season next Friday night.
However, despite picking up a third straight triumph in a 5-2 affair against the Regina Pats, a lackluster 40 minutes in Saturday’s game at the Art Hauser Centre has the team looking for more when the campaign begins.
“I didn’t like the first two periods at all, it was just ugly,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “Obviously, an exhibition game where you are playing in front of 1,000 people isn’t going to have the same intensity as overtime in Game 7 of the WHL final, but the mantel of defending champions is one that we have to carry all season and we have to bring it every night as all of the other teams are gunning for us.”
“We weren’t happy with how we came out last night in Regina (where the Raiders won a 3-2 shootout affair) and we knew that we had to pick the pace up,” defenceman Max Martin added. “We started flat again and I know that I wasn’t very good in the first two periods, but I thought we responded well after we got challenged in the second intermission.”
Fresh off their trips to the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens rookie camps respectively, Martin and forward Cole Fonstad helped to lead the charge for the Raiders with four-point nights.
Fonstad scored twice in the third period and had two assists, while Martin dished out three helpers and lit the lamp early in the final stanza to break a 2-2 tie.
“The big thing for all of us in the pre-season is to try and get the feeling of playing a game back and getting the chemistry going with the other guys,” Fonstad said. “It’s huge for everyone to start the season with some momentum as it’s hard to get going if your behind and not clicking.
“I think we can be a little crisper out there and we’ll need to be sharper next weekend when the games start counting for real.”
Ozzy Wiesblatt had a goal and an assist in the triumph, which also saw Ilya Usau score and Boston Bilous make 32 saves.
The Pats, who went 2-3-0-2 in the pre-season and will start off their regular season at home against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Friday, got goals from Makai Mitchell and Robbie Holmes.
Max Paddock turned aside 22 shots in a losing effort.
It won’t take much for the Raiders to get fired up for next Friday’s home opener against the Saskatoon Blades, as their 2019 Ed Chynoweth Cup championship banner will be hoisted to the rafters.
“I’m sure the milk crates, ladders and sawhorses will all come out again,” Habscheid joked.
“The only disappointing part about the whole night is that everybody won’t be here for it. You get attached to the guys that were here for a long time like Parker Kelly, Sean Montgomery and Ian Scott, but they aren’t going to be here to celebrate with us.”
Fans are asked to arrive in their seats by 6:55 p.m. for the pre-game ceremonies.
The team will also be holding their annual general meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Ches Leach Lounge.
Wiesblatt, who led the Raiders in pre-season scoring with seven points, became the first Raider to score six goals in exhibition play since Norwegian import Jonas Knutsen in 2011.
Knutsen would only score six times in 49 games during the 2011-12 campaign.
Saturday’s contest was played without a scoreboard over centre ice, as the Art Hauser Centre’s new videoboard is slated to be installed next week ahead of Friday’s season opener.
Brett Balas, Zack Hayes, Brayden Pachal, Jakob Brook, Aliaksei Protas and Eric Pearce did not dress for the Raiders, while the Pats scratched Steven Zonneveld, Tyson Feist, Dawson Holt and Duncan Pierce.
Around the WHL
Barring an eye-popping performance by a member of the Red Deer Rebels or the Calgary Hitmen on Sunday, Kamloops Blazers rookie forward Logan Stankoven will end the WHL pre-season as the scoring leader with 15 points in six games.
That matches the numbers that Aleksi Heponiemi posted in 2016 for the Swift Current Broncos.
The Finnish forward would have 86 points in 72 games in his rookie campaign in the league.
Meanwhile, the Moose Jaw Warriors found their third overage player Saturday as they acquired forward Jadon Joseph from the Vancouver Giants for a third round pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft and a conditional fifth round selection in 2022.
The Sherwood Park, Alta. product, who also suited up for the Lethbridge Hurricanes and the Regina Pats last season, is coming off a career high 53-point season and also recorded 12 points in 22 games for the Giants during their run to the WHL final.
The other 20-year-old players in the Warriors lineup are forward Luke Ormsby and goaltender Bailey Brkin.
Saturday’s Pre-Season Scoreboard
- Edmonton 2 Prince George 1 (Jake Neighbours Overtime Winner – Riley Sawchuk – One Goal and One Assist)
- Moose Jaw 2 Brandon 1 (Bailey Brkin – 26 Saves)
- Calgary 2 Medicine Hat 1 (Jackson Van De Leest – One Goal and One Assist)
- Saskatoon 6 Winnipeg 2 (Cyle McNabb – Two Goals)
- Swift Current 2 Lethbridge 1 (Isaac Poulter – 37 Saves)
- Kamloops 3 Kelowna 2 (Brodi Stuart Shootout Winner – Roman Basran – 32 Saves)
- Spokane 3 Tri-City 1 (Connor Gabruch – Two Assists)
Sunday’s Pre-Season Schedule
- Red Deer vs. Calgary – 4 p.m.