Raiders and ICE set for game one clash in Winnipeg

The Prince Albert Raiders and Winnipeg ICE will sqaure off in the first round of the WHL Playoffs. --Kyle Kosowan/Daily Herald

It’s no secret that the Prince Albert Raiders have it in tough with their first round matchup against the top seeded Winnipeg ICE.

The two clubs will faceoff in game one on Friday night at Wayne Fleming Arena, but the Raiders aren’t intimidated.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” Raider forward Evan Herman said. “Winnipeg is a pretty good team, and we’re just looking forward to going there and getting a couple of skates in before we play on Friday.”

For Prince Albert, it took wins in their final two games of the regular season clinch the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They put in a pair of their best performances of the year, beating the Swift Current Broncos 4-1 and the Brandon Wheat Kings 5-1.

Herman has been at the forefront of the Raiders’ late season surge, putting a bunch of points on the board. He had 14 points in his final 10 regular season games, including six points Prince Albert’s final three games of the season. When asked about his recent hot streak, Herman said he’s more worried about the success of the team heading into the playoffs.

“I think points are secondary,” he said. “The real points are the two that the team gets after a win. That’s all I’m really focused on right now. I’m doing what I can to help this team get some points and get some wins.”

In 2018-19 during Prince Albert’s WHL championship winning season, Herman was around to experience the moment. While he wasn’t heavily involved with the team, playing just three games in the regular season, he said there are a lot of similarities from that team and the 2021-22 roster.

“We’re a tight knit group. Both teams were really close, and I know we are all really close again this year. I know that’s a part of our culture here in P.A., and we look to build that every year. Our coaching staff looks to build a strong team every year, and we’re brothers again. I like our group here.”

Despite finishing the season with a 28-35-4-1 record, the Raiders gave the league best ICE (53-10-3-2) some trouble. In eight regular season meetings, Prince Albert won three games, going 3-4-1-0 head to head. Only the second seeded Edmonton Oil Kings had a better record against Winnipeg in 2021-22 (3-1-0-0).

Although getting three wins and seven points against the best team in the Western Hockey League might give the Raiders some additional confidence heading into games one and two on the road, Herman said they’re not taking anything for granted.

“The playoffs are a totally different bird,” he said. “The regular season is what it is, and the playoffs are a whole different beast. I don’t know how much translation the regular season will have into the playoffs. I think it’s just a new page in the chapter.”

A real confidence booster for the Raiders has been the emergence of rookie netminder Tikhon Chaika, who took the reigns of the Raider crease shortly after arriving to Canada. After a delay with his VISA and COVID-19 restrictions, Chaika arrived in Prince Albert nearly a month after the regular season kicked off, making his first WHL start on October 23rd against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Fifty-one appearances later, Chaika put up the most wins by a Raiders rookie goalie (22) since the 1995-96 season, when Blaine Russell had 25. He’s been named the WHL’s goalie of the week three times this season, finishing the regular season campaign with a 2.79 GAA and a .904 SV%. In six appearances against the ICE this season, Chaika put up a .902 SV%, going 3-1-1-0 in those games.

2021-22 head-to-head

Winnipeg 5, Prince Albert 2 (March 27 in Winnipeg)

Winnipeg 6, Prince Albert 2 (March 26 in Winnipeg)

Winnipeg 3, Prince Albert 2, OT (March 22 in Prince Albert)

Prince Albert 3, Winnipeg 2, OT (March 5 in Prince Albert)

Winnipeg 5, Prince Albert 2 (January 21 in Prince Albert)

Prince Albert 4, Winnipeg 1 (December 14 in Prince Albert)

Prince Albert 4, Winnipeg 3, OT (November 28 in Winnipeg)

Winnipeg 8, Prince Albert 0 (October 9 in Winnipeg)

Game one of their first round series goes on Friday night in Winnipeg. Puck drop is at 6 p.m.