Busy week ahead for Raiders, set to host Rebels Wednesday

Herald File Photo. Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Miguel Marques eyes up Prince Albert Raider defenceman Terrell Goldsmith prior to a faceoff during WHL action earlier this season. The Raiders host the Hurricanes on Saturday night.

The Prince Albert Raiders will take to the ice three times this week in the midst of a battle for a playoff spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference

Prince Albert will welcome the Red Deer Rebels to the Art Hauser Centre on Wednesday night before traveling to Brandon on Friday for a matchup with the Wheat Kings at Westoba Place. The Raiders will return home on Saturday for a key matchup with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Raider head coach Jeff Truitt says each team on the schedule will provide their own unique challenges

“They’re all tough games for different reasons. With Brandon, we’ve seen them a lot recently. The whole common denominator with all three of them is that points are important. You start here with Red Deer, a very tough, structured team. Hard on the forecheck. They do a lot of great things. They’ve got good depth and consistency throughout their lineup. You go into Brandon, we’ve seen them here. We know what they’re all about, it’s going to be a tough game. Then coming right back here against Lethbridge, the team that we’re battling against, it’s going to take our best effort in all three games.”

The Red Deer Rebels are the second stingiest team in the Eastern Conference so far this season. In 57 contests this season, Red Deer has allowed 172 goals or an average of about three goals per game. Only the Saskatoon Blades have allowed less goals, giving up 139 in 57 games, or about 2.43 goals per game.

The Raiders and Rebels have split the four games in the season series to this point with both Red Deer victories being 2-1 final scores back on Dec. 9 and Jan. 20.

With the Rebels possessing a strong, aggressive forecheck, Truitt says the Raiders will need to be smart and quick with their puck movement.

“You can’t hang on to the puck too long because they pressure so much. You’ve got to move the puck, and you’ve got to get the spots and make your breakouts clean. They defend their net very, very well. Those little types of real estate areas are important. They get to the net real well. They look for second opportunities.

At the other end, we’ve got to make sure that we don’t get tied up by their defenseman. They box out and defend their net extremely well. The other thing is that special teams are usually really huge against a tight-checking team like that. You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that you are given.”

The Raiders feature two players from Red Deer on their active roster. Defencemen Justice Christensen and forward Harrison Lodewyk both played for the Red Deer Rebels U15 AAA program before they entered the WHL ranks with the Raiders.

Lodewyk says he always enjoys the chance to play against his hometown team.

“It’s pretty surreal. I had season tickets growing up since I was five years old (up until) when I got drafted. Playing them here, they’re a tough team. They’re hard to play, and it’s always fun playing them. “

A quick turnaround will be crucial for the Raiders. They will travel to Brandon on Friday night for a matchup with the Wheat Kings before having to travel back to Prince Albert to take on the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Saturday night at the Art Hauser Centre. The total travel distance will be over 1,300 kilometers for the team.

Truitt says the Raiders will need to be mentally sharp and ready to embrace the challenge of the travel schedule.

“It’s been a test on the mental side for a while now, it’s not unpredictable. We’ve known this is coming and we just have to adapt. We have to get our rest and obviously crank it up come game time. No matter what the travel schedule is, you have got to adapt to it and play your game.”

At the time of publishing, the Raiders sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings with a record of 27-26-1-3 on the season, good enough for 58 points. The Lethbridge Hurricanes (26-26-5-0) sit just one point back in the standings, while the Calgary Hitmen (23-26-7-1) sit four points back.

Truitt says the Raiders are looking to punch their ticket to the postseason by finishing the season strong.

“We control things and we know that the schedule is. The teams that we’re playing with are very tough and everybody’s in a battle and you can’t expect anything less about these teams coming in and playing them. There’s going to be desperation on every team that we play and desperation from us as well. All we can ask is our players to be their best.”

Harrison Lodewyk recorded a goal in the last playoff series the Raiders were a part of, a first round loss in five games to the Winnipeg ICE in the 2021-2022 season

He says the Raiders are looking to get back to the postseason and make some noise.

”Especially last year after not making the playoffs, it stung quite a bit. Being at home for that long, it’s just a lot of sitting around. It just sucks watching other teams playing (in) the playoffs. You love the game, you love the fans. It’s tough. We’re really hungry to get in this year and really make a difference.”

The Raiders will start the week by hosting the Rebels for This Girl Can night at the Art Hauser Centre Wednesday. Special guests will include U of S alumni Nancy Dragan, video messages from current PWHL players Brooke Hobson and Kaitlin Willoughby and current members of the Prince Albert Northern Bears. Puck drops at 7 p.m.