Blades beat Raiders in final game before Christmas break

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Jakob Brook and Eric Florchuk watch on as Landon Kosior and Kyle Crnkovic battle along the board during Sunday's game between the Prince Albert Raiders and the Saskatoon Blades at the SaskTel Centre.

Some time away from the grind of the Western Hockey League season might be coming at a good time for the Prince Albert Raiders.

The defending league champions suffered their second straight loss and their fourth in the last six games on Sunday evening in Saskatoon as they dropped a 4-1 affair to the host Blades at the SaskTel Centre.

“I thought we were just there in the first period and although our focus was better in the last two periods, we didn’t generate much,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said.

“We’re missing two good players (Aliaksei Protas and Ilya Usau) and everyone goes through dips, but to go 2-4 without them wasn’t great, especially as we wanted other guys to step up. It is what is it though. We’ll reset and away we go.”

Meanwhile, it was a big bounce-back showing for 15-15-1-2 Blades side that had lost four straight games and had given up a combined 16 goals in their last two home contests.

“We weren’t really down on ourselves but we were disappointed that we hadn’t strung some wins together and that we weren’t getting the bounces,” Blades forward Tristen Robins said.

“To go into the Christmas break with a big win like this against one of our rivals is a good feeling.”

Robins got things going in the first period by converting a feed from blueliner Scott Walford, as he scored the Blades’ Teddy Bear Toss goal for the second straight year against the Raiders.

“Honestly, I’m kind of hoping we play them again next year,” Robins joked. “I don’t think there are many players that can say they scored that goal two years in a row.”

Robins, who is on a career-high five-game point streak, and Eric Florchuk led the way on offence with a goal and an assist each.

Walford dished out a pair of helpers for the hosts, who also got goals from Zach Huber and Matej Toman.

Nolan Maier had another strong outing as he turned aside 24 shots for the Blades, who moved back ahead of the Brandon Wheat Kings for third place in the East Division.

Ozzy Wiesblatt had the lone goal for the visitors, who received a 24-save performance from Boston Bilous.

As the team heads off on their Christmas break, the 20-9-3-1 Raiders are still leading the way in the East Division as they hold a five-point advantage over the Winnipeg Ice.

“We’d have taken that record for sure when the season started, but you don’t want to be going in the break with a 2-4 mark,” Habscheid said.

“With that said, we lost our leading scorer (Protas) and another big piece (Usau), so there are two important pieces from our power play that are gone. It gave our other players a chance to grow though and they’ll learn from it.”

The Raiders and Blades will square off again on Friday, Dec. 27 at the Art Hauser Centre and on Saturday, Dec. 28 in Saskatoon.

Both contests will get underway at 7 p.m.

Post-Game Notes

The Blades now hold a 3-1 advantage in the season series with the Raiders, with their lone loss coming in a 1-0 affair on Sept. 21.

In addition to Protas and Usau, Niall Crocker was the only other scratch for the Raiders.

The Blades did not dress Radek Kucerik and Kjell Kjemhus.

Division I World Juniors

Aliaksei Protas turned in a dominating performance Sunday as he had two goals and two assists each in Belarus’ 7-2 win over Denmark in Minsk during their final round-robin game of the 2020 Division I World Juniors.

The Washington Capitals prospect had seven points in five games to finish the week in a tie for fourth in scoring with teammate Evgeni Oxentyuk of the OHL’s Flint Firebirds.

Ilya Usau, who was held without a point on Sunday, had three points in five games.

Austria, who were without star forward Marco Rossi of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, finished in first place with a 4-1 record and clinched a spot next year’s World Juniors in Edmonton and Red Deer.

Belarus, who went 3-0-2 and finished in third place out of six teams, will again be in the Division I ranks next winter.

Sunday’s Scores

  • Calgary 5 Lethbridge 2 (Riley Fiddler-Schultz – Two Goals)
  • Everett 4 Spokane 3 (Gage Goncalves Shootout Winner – One Goal and One Assist)
  • Seattle 4 Portland 3 (Conner Roulette Shootout Winner – Two Goals)
  • Winnipeg 5 Regina 4 (Connor McClennon Shootout Winner – Max Paddock – 42 Saves)

Tuesday’s Schedule

  • Brandon vs. Winnipeg – 7:30 p.m.
  • Prince George vs. Vancouver – 9 p.m.
  • Seattle vs. Tri-City – 9 p.m.
  • Spokane vs. Victoria – 9 p.m.

Wednesday’s Schedule

  • Tri-City vs. Everett – 9 p.m.
  • Vancouver vs. Kelowna – 9 p.m.
  • Spokane vs. Victoria – 9 p.m.