Outside observers probably didn’t see the Prince Albert Raiders posting a 7-0-2-0 record to start off their defence of the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
However, fourth year forward Cole Fonstad wasn’t among those who thought there would be a drop-off after the Raiders’ impressive 2018-19 campaign.
“To be honest, I knew it was coming,” Fonstad said.
“There are lots of people that think that you are going to have a bad team after winning a championship, which is what has happened to some teams in the past. I didn’t think that was going to happen here though with the culture that we have built and the guys we had coming back.”
The Raiders picked up their fourth straight victory and wrapped up a six-game homestand Saturday with a wild 8-4 victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors, as they now find themselves in first place in the entire Western Hockey League.
“I’d be lying if I said I expected this to start the season,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said.
“That says a lot about our guys. They want to win. When you are the defending champions and you have that taste of success, you don’t want to give it up.”
Ilya Usau led the way for the hosts with his best showing thus far in his rookie campaign as he scored two goals and dished out a pair of helpers.
“I have more of an idea of how the team plays and I’ve been picking things up along the way,” Usau said. “However, there’s still more work to do and I can get better every time out.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can out there to help the team win and I’m just staying focused on the details.”
It was an impressive showing for the line of Usau, Fonstad and Spencer Moe, as Fonstad had a goal and two assists to go along with Moe’s three-assist night.
“It took a couple of games to get that chemistry going, but we’ve got a good flow out there and our timing was there tonight,” Fonstad said.
“Spencer is super fast and gets into good places, while Ilya brings a little bit of everything. It’s pretty easy to play with those guys.”
Aliaksei Protas had two goals and an assist in the victory, while Brayden Watts found the back of the net and dished out a helper.
Daniil Stepanov got his first goal in a Raiders uniform against his old team and Nolan Allan got things rolling on offence with his first career WHL goal.
“Moose Jaw had just got a penalty, so we had an extra guy out there on the ice,” Allan said. “Ozzy (Wiesblatt) came around the net there and passed it to the point, then I heard Remy (Aquilon) calling for a switch. So I just walked across the blue line, saw a lane to the net and shot it.
“It’s nice to get that first goal out of the way, but the two points are what’s most important as we want to keep things rolling.”
After giving up three goals on six shots to start the night, Boston Bilous bounced back with some big stops in the final frame as he made 11 saves on his way to his sixth victory of the campaign.
Although the Warriors fell to 5-3 with their second loss in as many nights, it could have been a worse outcome if it wasn’t for a dominating performance by Brayden Tracey.
In his second game back with the team after attending the Anaheim Ducks training camp, the 18-year-old forward recorded the second four-point night of his WHL career as he scored a goal and set up three others.
“Being at the Ducks camp got me to a speed that’s the top end in the hockey world,” Tracey said. “Coming back here to Moose Jaw, I want to maintain that NHL speed and keep playing at that pace.
“We kept battling out there tonight, which was good to see, but we had a few bounces that didn’t go our way and there are some things we can adjust in our defensive zone and in front of our net that will allow us to be more successful.”
Ryder Korczak and Jadon Joseph had a goal and an assist for the Warriors, who will be back in action at home on Tuesday against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Owen Hardy also scored for the visitors, who received a 25-save showing from Bailey Brkin.
Next up for the Raiders is their longest road trip of the campaign, as they’ll start a five-game swing through the US Division next Saturday night against the Everett Silvertips.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Allan said. “I’ve never been on a road trip that long before and I’m looking forward to the experience.”
Thanks to his three-point outing, Aliaksei Protas now has 14 points in nine games and has moved into a tie for the WHL scoring lead with Bryce Kindopp of the Everett Silvertips and James Hamblin of the Medicine Hat Tigers.
Ilya Usau’s four-point night moved him into fourth place among rookies in the league with nine points in five games.
Landon Kosior earned his first WHL assist on Brayden Watts’ second period goal, while Remy Aquilon picked up his first point as a Raider by setting up Daniil Stepanov’s third period marker.
Brayden Tracey’s previous four-point performance came on Feb. 1 of this year as he scored three goals and had one assist in a 6-1 home win over the Tigers.
Braydon Clark and Tyson Laventure did not dress for the Raiders, while the Warriors scratched Adam Evanoff, Drae Gardiner, Cole Jordan, Peyton McKenzie and Cade Hayes.
- Edmonton 6 Calgary 4 (Carter Souch – Three Goals – First Career Hat Trick)
- Everett 1 Seattle 0 (Gage Goncalves Overtime Winner – Dustin Wolf – 35 Saves – Second Shutout This Season and 13th Career)
- Kamloops 5 Kelowna 2 (Max Martin – Two Goals)
- Medicine Hat 9 Red Deer 1 (Cole Sillinger – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Saskatoon 2 Lethbridge 1 (Koen MacInnes – 26 Saves)
- Vancouver 4 Regina 2 (Milos Roman – Two Goals)
- Spokane 6 Victoria 1 (Adam Beckman – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Winnipeg 6 Swift Current 5 (Connor McClennon Shootout Winner – Ethan Regnier – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Tri-City 4 Prince George 2 (Edge Lambert – Two Assists)
- Portland vs. Edmonton – 4 p.m.
- Lethbridge vs. Regina – 4 p.m.
- Saskatoon v. Calgary – 2 p.m.