The first game back from the Christmas break wasn’t going the Prince Albert Raiders way after 40 minutes as they found themselves down 3-2 to the Saskatoon Blades at the SaskTel Centre Thursday night.
That’s when Raiders captain Brayden Pachal took things into his own hands.
In his first game back from a two-game suspension, the 19-year-old from Estevan tied the game up with a power move in front of the net at the 6:28 mark of the third period and then slid a puck past the five-hole of Blades netminder Nolan Maier just 33 seconds into overtime as the top team in the Western Hockey League picked up a 4-3 win in Saskatoon.
“I’m more of a stay at home guy so I think it was just a bit of luck for me being in front of the net there,” Pachal joked after the game. “Cole (Fonstad) made a great play to get a shot off and I was just able to be in the right spot to slide the rebound home.
“We were a bit sloppy in the first two periods and the coaches made it clear to us that we weren’t playing at our best. The leadership group really stepped up in the room and talked about playing better out there and executing our game plan.”
While Pachal’s goals proved to be the difference maker, it was Noah Gregor and Fonstad who led the way on offence for the 32-2-0-1 Raiders, who are currently on a four-game win streak.
Fonstad had a trio of helpers Thursday, while Gregor scored twice and also had an assist on Pachal’s overtime winner.
“Noah’s been amazing for us,” Pachal said. “He really leads by example and he’s been doing what he was expected to do for us when he was traded here.”
Raiders rookies Kaiden Guhle and Ozzy Wiesblatt also helped out as they each had two assist evenings.
It was the second straight game that Guhle had dished out a pair of helpers, as he previously accomplished that feat in a 7-5 home win over the Swift Current Broncos on Dec. 15.
“When Sergei (Sapego) was gone (at the Division I World Juniors for Belarus) he really took advantage of his opportunities,” Pachal said of Guhle, who has nine points in 32 games. “He was the first overall pick (in 2017) and he’s definitely deserving of that.”
Donovan Buskey bounced back from a rough showing prior to Christmas against the Broncos, as he turned aside 23 shots to improve to 8-0 on the season.
One of the biggest positives of the night for the Blades was their power play, as they went two-for-five on the man advantage.
“That’s going to be huge for us as we get closer to the playoffs as special teams play will be key for us to be able to win the close games,” said Blades forward Tristen Robins, who led the way on offence with two assists.
“I think both teams were trying to get the turkey out of our systems so we had some slow legs out there, but I think there’s a lot more that we could be showing against them. I think you’ll see us at our full potential in Prince Albert tomorrow.”
Max Gerlach, Kyle Crnkovic and Eric Florchuk all scored for the 21-10-5-0 Blades, who have lost two straight overtime affairs.
Maier made 27 saves in a losing effort and was especially busy in the third period when his team was outshot 9-3.
The East Division rivals will be back in action Friday night at the Art Hauser Centre for a 7 p.m. affair.
Heading into Friday’s affair, the Raiders have won three out of four meetings against the Blades, with Saskatoon’s lone win coming in a 1-0 affair at the SaskTel Centre on Dec. 9.
With his two goal showing Thursday, Pachal has found the back of the net nine times this year and is tied with Moose Jaw’s Josh Brook and Vancouver’s Bowen Byram for the most goals among WHL blueliners.
In addition to Pachal, the Raiders also welcomed back Sergei Sapego and Aliaksei Protas back to their lineup as they returned from finishing second with Belarus at the Division I World Juniors earlier this month.
Lane Kirk, Brett Leason and Ian Scott did not dress for the Raiders, while the Blades scratched Zachary Ashton, Majid Kaddoura and Randen Schmidt.
- Regina 3 Brandon 2 (Sergei Alkhimov – Two Goals)
- Swift Current 4 Moose Jaw 3 (Alex Moar Overtime Winner – Joel Hofer – 39 Saves)
Sunday, Dec. 16 Scores
- Lethbridge 6 Calgary 4 (Jordy Bellerive – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Edmonton 7 Kootenay 4 (Brett Kemp – Two Goals and One Assist)
- Tri-City 4 Portland 3 (Kyle Olson Overtime Winner – Riley Sawchuk – Two Goals and Two Assists)
- Spokane 6 Seattle 5 (Eli Zummack Overtime Winner – Adam Beckman – Two Goals and Two Assists)
- Vancouver 2 Prince George 1 (Brayden Watts – Two Goals)
Saturday, Dec. 15 Scores
- Brandon 6 Saskatoon 5 (Stelio Mattheos Overtime Winner – Three Goals and One Assist – Second Hat Trick This Season and Third Career)
- Moose Jaw 6 Regina 3 (Tristin Langan – Three Goals and One Assist – Second Hat Trick This Season and Third Career – Justin Almeida – Two Goals and Four Assists)
- Lethbridge 5 Kamloops 2 (Jordy Bellerive – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Edmonton 3 Calgary 2 (Andrew Fyten Overtime Winner – One Goal and One Assist)
- Kelowna 2 Medicine Hat 1 (Roman Basran – 31 Saves)
- Tri-City 3 Portland 2 (Aaron Hyman Overtime Winner – Nolan Yaremko Two Goals)
- Victoria 4 Vancouver 2 (D-Jay Jerome – Two Goals)
- Everett 6 Seattle 1 (Riley Sutter – Two Goals)
- Saskatoon vs. Prince Albert – 7 p.m.
- Brandon vs. Regina – 7 p.m.
- Moose Jaw vs. Saskatoon – 7 p.m.
- Calgary vs. Edmonton – 8 p.m.
- Victoria vs. Lethbridge – 8 p.m.
- Vancouver vs. Red Deer – 8 p.m.
- Kootenay vs. Medicine Hat – 8:30 p.m.
- Kelowna vs. Kamloops – 9 p.m.
- Tri-City vs. Portland – 9 p.m.
- Everett vs. Spokane – 9 p.m.
- Prince George vs. Seattle – 9:30 p.m.