A year after their last Western Hockey League contest, the Prince Albert Raiders returned to action on a winning note Friday.
In their first of 24 games inside the East Division hub at the Brandt Centre, the Raiders opened up their 2020-21 slate with a 6-3 triumph over the Regina Pats.
“We’re happy for the kids,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “They were excited to play after almost a year off and to get the win was a bonus.”
While the Raiders were able to start off the season on the right foot, the overall structure of the game was what one might expect after a 12-month layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It (the structure) was kind of a disaster to be honest, but I think all four teams (Regina, Brandon and Moose Jaw) would say that after they played today,” Habscheid said.
“It’s tough for everyone. You really don’t know what to expect. You could tell that the guys haven’t played in a year and we’re coming off a short training camp with no exhibition games. It wasn’t a Picasso that’s for sure.”
Max Paddock picked up where he left off last season as he turned aside 28 shots in his first game back in Regina since he was traded to the Raiders last January.
“It was a little bit different than what I imagined coming back here would be like when I was traded,” Paddock said about playing in front of an empty Brandt Centre. “You have to create your own atmosphere and that’s a challenge we’ll all have to deal with going forward.”
San Jose Sharks prospect Ozzy Wiesblatt recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick to start the season as he scored a goal, had two assists and got into a third period fight with Pats blueliner Kyle Walker after the overage defenceman made a hit on Raiders rookie forward Logan Linklater.
“My linemates (Evan Herman and Reece Vitelli) did a great job on the forecheck all game and I was fortunate to have them on my side,” Wiesblatt said.
“It was good to get the win to start the season but there are some things that we can clean up on offence and defence as we move forward.”
Vitelli and Herman had a goal and an assist each in the triumph, which saw Remy Aquilon dish out two helpers.
Matthew Culling, Logan Danis and Tyson Laventure rounded out the scoring for the Raiders.
The Pats were led on offence by rookie forward Connor Bedard, as the first ever exceptional status player in WHL history potted a pair of goals in a 48-second span during the early part of the second period.
“It was really special,” Bedard said to the media after the game. “It’s been a long year I think for everyone, just waiting to get started and it was definitely good to get that one going and out of the way. It’s a special feeling getting on that ice and finally being able to play for Regina.”
Logan Nijhoff also scored in the loss, while Roddy Ross made 11 saves in his debut for the Pats and recorded an assist on Bedard’s first goal.
After a day off on Saturday, the Raiders will return to action on Sunday night at 8 p.m. as they’ll take on the Moose Jaw Warriors.
The season opener was marred by an injury to Pats forward Jakob Brook after just 34 seconds of play, as he crashed into the endboards in a race for the puck with Kaiden Guhle and was unable to put weight on his right leg while being helped off the ice.
Brook, who was acquired by the Pats as part of the Max Paddock trade with the Raiders last year, did not return.
Raiders rookie blueliner Graydon Gotaas recorded his first career WHL point on Friday as he picked up an assist on Laventure’s marker in the opening frame.
Bedard’s two-goal performance was the best ever opening night outing by an exceptional status player in the Canadian Hockey League, as John Tavares, Sean Day and Joe Veleno had a single point in their debuts.
The Raiders did not dress Kyle Crosbie and Tayem Gislason on Friday, while the Pats scratched Colby Wotton, Braxton Whitehead, Jacob Dewitt, Marcus Taylor, Parker Berge and Matthew Kieper.
Around the WHL
The Pats were in the news prior to their season opener on Friday as the team announced Shaun and Gavin Sample of the Brandt Group of Companies were the new principal owners of the team.
This marks the third ownership swap since September in the WHL as the Brandon Wheat Kings and Portland Winterhawks have also changed hands.
- Moose Jaw 4 Brandon 3 (Tate Popple Overtime Winner – Two Goals)
- Lethbridge 7 Red Deer 4 (Chase Wheatcroft – Two Goals)
- Medicine Hat 6 Calgary 2 (Cole Clayton – Three Goals – First Career Hat Trick)
Following their exciting seven-game encounter with the Warriors in the opening round of the 2018 playoffs, the Raiders have taken eight out of ten meetings from their provincial rival, including all four last season.
Former Raider Boston Bilous got the start in Friday’s 4-3 overtime win over the Wheat Kings and made 19 saves.
Brayden Yager, who was the third overall pick in last year’s WHL Bantam Draft, made his debut on Friday but was held without a point.
- Saskatoon vs. Swift Current – 4 p.m.
- Red Deer vs. Lethbridge – 7 p.m.
- Winnipeg vs. Brandon – 8 p.m.
- Calgary vs. Medicine Hat – 8 p.m.
- Regina vs. Saskatoon – 4 p.m.
- Lethbridge vs. Red Deer – 6 p.m.
- Medicine Hat vs. Calgary – 7 p.m.
- Moose Jaw vs. Prince Albert – 8 p.m.