Although the Prince Albert Raiders showed signs of life in the late stages of Saturday’s Western Hockey League contest at the Art Hauser Centre, a slow start put them behind the eight-ball in their last home game before Christmas.
The BC Division leading Kamloops Blazers moved out in front late in the first period and never looked back as they picked up a 4-2 victory in the final contest of a six-game swing through the East Division.
“It was a strange game,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “The crowd was quiet and the bench didn’t have much energy. The only time we got anything going was after the (Teddy Bear Toss) goal.
“Up until that, we had nothing going on. Tonight we were just flat. The building was flat, you guys (the media) were flat, the coaches were flat, the Earth is flat, everything is flat.”
It took until the 11:51 mark of the final frame before the Raiders were able to solve Blazers netminder Dylan Garand, as Brayden Watts wired a shot into the top corner to send the bears flying on the ice.
“Reece (Vitelli) made a really good play on that one,” Watts said. “He popped the puck over to me and I was able to turn and fire it.
“It means a lot to score a goal like that and it’s a good thing for the kids.”
Evan Herman had the other goal for the 20-8-3-1 Raiders, who received a 28-save showing from Carter Serhyenko.
“He played well,” Habscheid said. “He’s a young kid that battles and competes all the time, and he gave us a chance.
“When we got down 3-0 I thought we could get one early in the third on the power play, but that was flat also. We had nothing going until we got one in there and then it was 3-2 all of sudden. We had a couple of chances to tie it up late, but it was one of those games.”
Saturday’s contest also marked the return of former Raiders blueliner Max Martin, who was dealt to the Blazers in early October.
After receiving his 2019 WHL championship ring from Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt, the overager had a pair of assists to help his team improve to 21-9-2-1.
“It was a pretty special night,” said Martin, who received first star honours.
“I was telling the guys (his former Raiders teammates) that I was pretty nervous to start the game and my knees were shaking when I got the championship ring. It felt like a regular game though after a couple of shifts and it was a lot of fun.”
Zane Franklin led the offence for the visitors with three assists and his linemate Orrin Centazzo had a pair of goals.
Ryan Hughes and Logan Stankoven also found the back of the net, while Garand turned aside 25 shots.
“I think that was one of our best games that we’ve played on the road,” said Blazers forward and former Prince Albert Minto Josh Pillar, who had an assist on Stankoven’s marker.
“Even though they got those two late goals, I thought we played a full 60 minutes, which is something that we’ve been looking to do here lately.”
The Raiders will have a chance to return to the win column tomorrow in Saskatoon as they’ll visit the Blades for a 4 p.m. clash at the SaskTel Centre.
“Every time that we come at our opponents off the hop, we have a good game,” Watts said. “When we sit back and let them do their thing, we have results like this one.
“If we come out strong tomorrow, I think we should be in good shape.”
Both teams will then head off on their Christmas breaks before squaring off again at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday, Dec. 27.
Brayden Watts is the fifth straight overage player to score a Teddy Bear Toss goal for the Raiders, as he joins Sean Montgomery, Curtis Miske, Austin Glover and Jesse Lees on that list.
Ozzy Wiesblatt was held without a point on Saturday, which brought an end to his six-game scoring streak.
Meanwhile, Orrin Centazzo and Zane Franklin both extended their point streaks to seven games for the visitors.
The Blazers, who will enter the Christmas break on a three-game win streak, went 4-0-2-0 during their biannual trip through the East Division.
Aliaksei Protas, Ilya Usau and Niall Crocker did not dress for the Raiders, while the Blazers scratched Kyrell Sopotyk and Martin Lang.
- Everett 3 Vancouver 2 (Bryce Kindopp – Two Goals)
- Lethbridge 3 Calgary 0 (Carl Tetachuk – 31 Saves – Third Shutout This Season and Fifth Career)
- Edmonton 7 Medicine Hat 1 (Josh Williams – Two Goals and Two Assists)
- Kelowna 5 Moose Jaw 4 (Kaedan Korczak Overtime Winner – Two Goals – Ryder Korczak – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Prince George 4 Victoria 2 (Ilijah Colina – Two Goals)
- Red Deer 3 Swift Current 1 (Josh Tarzwell – One Goal and One Assist)
- Spokane 5 Seattle 2 (Adam Beckman – Three Goals and Two Assists – First Hat Trick This Season and Second Career)
- Portland 8 Tri-City 1 (James Stefan – One Goal and Two Assists)
Around the WHL
Following Saturday’s slate of games, the Kelowna Rockets added another overager to their roster as they acquired blueliner Conner McDonald from the Edmonton Oil Kings in exchange for a first round pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft and a third round pick in 2023.
McDonald, who last played for the Oil Kings on Nov. 1 and left the side a couple of weeks later to attend to a family matter, has eight points in 15 games this season.
He led all blueliners on the Oil Kings last year and was fourth in team scoring with 50 points.
In adding McDonald, the Rockets put overage blueliner Carson Sass on waivers.
The Melville product had two assists in 31 games for the Memorial Cup hosts.
The Rockets still have four 20-year-old players on their roster as McDonald joins forwards Matthew Wedman, Jadon Joseph and Kyle Topping.
Topping’s status is still up in the air as he’s sidelined for two to three months with a broken ankle.
Sunday will mark the first of three straight meetings between the Raiders and the Blades, as they’ll square off at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday, Dec. 27 and will square off again at SaskTel Centre on Saturday, Dec. 28.
It will also be the fourth of 10 matchups this season between the East Division rivals, with the Blades currently holding a 2-1 edge after a pair of overtime wins in Prince Albert.
The lone contest to be held in Saskatoon took place on Sept. 21, as Cole Fonstad scored in the third period and Boston Bilous made 26 saves in a 1-0 affair.
Following a 5-2 setback against the Kamloops Blazers on Friday, the 14-15-1-2 Blades are mired in a four-game losing streak and have won two of their last 10 games.
They are currently tied for third place in the East Division standings with the Brandon Wheat Kings and are only four points ahead of the Red Deer Rebels for the second and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Blueliner Radek Kucerik will not be in the lineup for the hosts as he’s currently attending training camp for the Czech Republic World Junior team.
- Lethbridge vs. Calgary – 3 p.m.
- Winnipeg vs. Regina – 4 p.m.
- Prince Albert vs. Saskatoon – 4 p.m.
- Spokane vs. Everett – 6 p.m.
- Seattle vs. Portland – 7 p.m.