If Saturday’s contest at the Art Hauser Centre was any indication, the final two meetings of the regular season between the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Prince Albert Raiders could go down to the wire.
In the first of three games between the clubs over the next two weeks, it was the league-leading Oil Kings that came out on top with a 3-2 shootout triumph over the defending Western Hockey League champions.
“We lost in a skills competition so I’m not too upset about that,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “What I liked though is that the guys aren’t happy that they lost. It doesn’t matter if it’s a shootout or not, but they are thinking the right way.
“Edmonton outplayed us for 10 minutes in the second, but other than that, I thought it was pretty even and I liked the way that we played.”
Saturday’s matchup marked the first time that the Oil Kings were back in Prince Albert since they lost the 2019 Eastern Conference final to the Raiders in six games.
It was also their first matchup with the East Division side since they dropped a 6-3 affair to them on Nov. 5 in Edmonton.
“After they gave us a bit of a spanking there earlier in the season, we definitely had this one circled on the calendar,” Oil Kings forward Jake Neighbours said.
“You got to give respect where respect is due though. The Raiders are a good team and they are very well-coached.”
Neighbours had the lone goal in the shootout for the 29-7-5-3 Oil Kings and also scored on a shorthanded breakaway in the third period.
“I think our structure, our detail and the way that we managed the game was really good tonight,” Neighbours said. “(Goaltender Sebastian) Cossa was really big for us as well, especially when the Raiders turned it on late.”
Cossa turned aside 29 shots for the visitors, who also got a goal from Vladimir Alistrov as they remain eight points ahead of the Medicine Hat Tigers in the race for first place in the Central Division.
The Raiders wouldn’t have picked up the extra point if it wasn’t for Reece Vitelli, as a shot from captain Zack Hayes bounced off his skate and into the back of the Oil Kings net with 7.3 seconds to go in regulation.
“We had talked a little bit this morning with that line (which includes Evan Herman and Matthew Culling) about how they are good players and that we expected a little more out of them,” Habscheid said.
“I thought they were our best line tonight. They were quick and fast on the puck, which is something that Reece played a big part in.”
Aliaksei Protas had a goal and an assist for the 22-14-5-2 Raiders, who are tied for first place in the East Division standings with a Winnipeg Ice side that has two games in hand.
Max Paddock earned first star honours once again after a 34-save showing, which was highlighted by a sprawling save to prevent Alistrov from scoring his second goal of the night during the middle stanza.
“He’s been huge for us so far,” Raiders blueliner Kaiden Guhle said.
“Obviously when you get a new player out there, the communication can be a little iffy at times. I felt like we got that out of our system yesterday (against the Prince George Cougars) and we were a lot better today.”
Both teams are now off until next Friday in Edmonton, when they’ll square off in an 8 p.m. matchup at Rogers Place.
Prior to the contest, Guhle, Neighbours and Raiders forward Ozzy Wiesblatt are headed to Hamilton, Ont. to take part in the 2020 CHL Top Prospects Game.
“It’ll be really cool to have those guys there, along with a few other guys that we played with for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup back in August,” Neighbours said. “I think we’re all looking forward to the experience.”
That game, which gets underway at 6 p.m. Thursday, will air nationally on Sportsnet.
Saturday’s shootout was the first for the Raiders at the Art Hauser Centre since a 2-1 win over the Red Deer Rebels on March 1, 2019.
Their previous two shootouts this season came on the road, as they picked up a 3-2 win over the Tri-City Americans on Oct. 25 and lost a 4-3 contest to the Regina Pats on Nov. 16.
Loeden Schaufler was back at the Art Hauser Centre for the first time since he was released by the Raiders in the pre-season.
The 19-year-old from Dewinton, Alta., who was a member of the 2019 WHL championship winning side after a deadline day deal with the Seattle Thunderbirds, has four points in 23 games for the Oil Kings after starting the season with the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Oil Kings rookie forward Dylan Guenther was held off the scoresheet on Saturday, which brought an end to his five-game point streak.
Daniil Stepanov did not dress for the Raiders, while the Oil Kings scratched Jacson Alexander, Wyatt McLeod, Logan Dowhaniuk, Jesse Seppala and Tyler Horstmann.
- Kamloops 7 Kelowna 2 (Max Martin – Three Assists)
- Lethbridge 7 Swift Current 2 (Zack Stringer – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Medicine Hat 7 Moose Jaw 5 (Ryan Chyzowski – One Goal and Three Assists)
- Prince George 4 Saskatoon 1 (Vladislav Mikhalchuk – Three Assists)
- Seattle 4 Everett 3 (Roddy Ross – 34 Saves)
- Tri-City 5 Regina 4 (Connor Bouchard – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Spokane 6 Vancouver 3 (Eli Zummack – Two Goals and Two Assists)
- Portland 6 Victoria 5 (Jaydon Dureau Overtime Winner – Three Goals and One Assist – First Career Hat Trick
- Winnipeg 6 Red Deer 0 (Michal Teply – Three Assists – Liam Hughes – 28 Saves – Second Shutout This Season)
Around the WHL
Goaltender Keegan Karki, who was let go by the Raiders after they acquired Max Paddock, has found a new home as he was acquired by the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers on Friday.
Saturday’s contest between the Blazers and the Rockets was highlighted by a line brawl with 2:14 to go in the third period, which included a tussle between netminder Dylan Garand and Roman Basran.
- Swift Current vs. Calgary – 3 p.m.
- Regina vs. Everett – 6 p.m.
- Prince George vs. Winnipeg – 7:30 p.m.
- Regina vs. Portland – 9 p.m.
- Kamloops vs. Spokane – 9 p.m.
- Tri-City vs. Victoria – 9 p.m.