McDonald aims to end WHL career on a high note

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Prince Albert Raiders forward Kody McDonald battles with Saskatoon Blades blueliner Jake Kustra in front of the net Thursday night at the Art Hauser Centre.

Over the last couple of weeks, Prince Albert Raiders overage forward Kody McDonald has had flashbacks to the summer of 2013 when he took part in his first Western Hockey League training camp as a prospect of the Prince George Cougars.

“My first goal in training camp this year was exactly the same as one I scored as a 15-year-old,” McDonald said. “When I played with the young guys here who were wearing full cages, it certainly brought back a lot of memories.

“I remember being nervous when I first came to Prince George after being drafted, so I tried to keep things as light as possible and joke around with the new faces here.”

During his time in Northern British Columbia, McDonald also learned a number of valuable lessons, especially during the 2016-17 campaign.

As part of a Cougars side that loaded up that year with a number of top WHL players, including Raiders defenceman Brendan Guhle, McDonald got to experience the highs that come with being on a team that many pegged to be a championship threat.

However, despite winning their first B.C. Division banner, the Cougars run came to a screeching halt in the first round as they were upset by the Portland Winterhawks in six games.

“There was a lot of hype around us going into that year and to be part of a team that was ranked in the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) Top 10 for 18 weeks made our run a good one to be a part of,” McDonald said.

“I think the biggest thing I took away from that is that you need to have a tight-knit group to be able to push through the challenges or differences you might have. You need to be together as one group. It doesn’t matter if you are a team that has one 50-goal scorer or a team with a whole bunch of 20-goal scorers. You need to have that chemistry.”

Since he arrived in Saskatchewan following a trade in January, the connection that the Raiders players have with one another is something that McDonald feels makes this team a good one.

“It’s the perfect group that you want to spend your last year of junior hockey with,” McDonald said. “There’s such a bond here with these guys, which is really important to have if you want to be a top team in the WHL.

“I really enjoy being in Prince Albert. The Raiders are a first class organization and there’s a more of a hometown feeling here compared to some of the bigger cities in the league.”

The Lethbridge, Alta. product is coming off of his best campaign to date last year as he had 34 goals and 32 assists in 68 regular season games.

“There’s a lot of excitement coming into this year but there’s also a lot of different feelings compared to before as I know this is my last season in junior hockey,” McDonald said.

“I have a number of goals in mind for this year, but the biggest one is to go out on a winning note. I think we have the team here that can do that.”

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald
Saskatoon Blades goaltender Dorrin Luding pokes the puck away from Prince Albert Raiders forward Carson Miller Thursday night.

In their second meeting of the pre-season, the Saskatoon Blades once again topped the Prince Albert Raiders Thursday at the Art Hauser Centre, as they scored three times in the third period on their way to a 6-3 win.

“Every shift is important at this point of the year,” Raiders forward Brett Leason said. “We can’t just sit and wait around to get rolling. We need to come out stronger than we have been.

“I think if we play a simple game where we get pucks in and pucks out, we’ll see things turn out better for us here over the next few pre-season games. We also need to limit the amount of turnovers that we had, as that cost us tonight.”

Saskatoon’s top line turned in a dominating performance Thursday, as Bradly Goethlas scored a pair of goals and had an assist to lead the charge, while centre Kirby Dach found the back of the net once and helped to set up two more markers.

Michael Farren, the other member of the line, had a goal and an assist in the win as the Blades improved their exhibition record to 4-0.

Braden Plaschewsky and Josh Paterson also scored for the visitors, who received a 16 save performance from Dorrin Luding.

Leason led the way for the Raiders with a goal and an assist, while rookie import Alaksei Protas had a pair of helpers.

Max Martin and Carson Miller both scored on the power play for the hosts in the second period.

Donovan Buskey, who was acquired from the Spokane Chiefs last Friday, turned aside 17 shots in a losing effort.

Next up for the Raiders, who have lost both of their exhibition affairs, is another meeting with the Blades in Warman Saturday night.

They will then pay a visit to the provincial capital to face the Regina Pats next Friday before concluding their pre-season slate against the Blades next Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre.

Prior to Thursday’s game, the team announced that prospects Nolan Allan and Tyson Laventure were both being sent back to the midget ranks for the upcoming season ahead of making the jump to the WHL next year.

Allan will patrol the blueline for the Saskatoon Blazers of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, while Laventure will be up front for the Okanagan Hockey Academy Edmonton program in the Canadian Sports School Hockey League.