Down 4-1 with 20 minutes to go, head coach Marc Habscheid didn’t stop believing in his team.
That’s all it took for everyone in the Prince Albert Raiders locker room as they prepped for the third period of play against the Regina Pats in Western Hockey League action Saturday night from the Queen City.
“Coach came in and just said ‘if you’re not a believer that we can win this game, just stay in the room.’ I think that just flipped the switch on everyone,” Raiders alternate captain Parker Kelly said after the game of his team’s comeback to force overtime.
After a gritty first period and a lackluster second period, the Raiders used a 14-shot third period to score three consecutive goals in the final 10 minutes of play, forcing overtime with the score tied at 4-4.
The Raiders and the Pats traded shots and momentum swings throughout the extra frame, but it was a late turnover at the Raiders’ blue line that proved to be the difference for the Pats.
Forwards Sam Steel and Cameron Hebig created a two-on-one play on Raiders defenceman Brayden Pachal and goalie Ian Scott to win the game 5-4 for the Pats.
Steel stretched the play wide enough to Scott’s left side that it forced Pachal to commit to defending him, while Hebig skated to Scott’s right door step; Steel passed to Hebig, who had to put the puck top shelf over a sprawled-out, sliding Scott for the game-winning goal.
“I’m proud of our guys. It was a great comeback; we were down three goals with eight minutes left, and it was a great effort,” Habscheid said after the game. “We thought they took a little bit of us in the second period, but then we just kept battling and didn’t quit. Then we got that 4-2 goal, and all of a sudden the momentum started to change.”
Twenty-year-old winger Regan Nagy scored his team’s second goal at 12:30 of the third period; fifteen seconds later, Kelly fired a slap shot from the high slot to beat Regina goalie Ryan Kubic and make the score 4-3.
The Raiders’ game-tying goal couldn’t have come soon enough; as they cycled the puck in the Pats’ zone with an extra skater and Scott on the bench, Kody McDonald tipped in a Jordy Stallard point shot with 38 seconds left in regulation.
“We’re all proud of each other for coming back, that shows great character. But we’re never satisfied with a loss,” Kelly said of the game’s bittersweet ending. “I think we lost a point there; we should have won that game.
“But I mean we got one point, and I think we’re tied with Saskatoon now. So, look at the positives.”
Saturday’s game was the third this season between the Raiders and the Pats that went to overtime; on Oct. 13, the Pats won 2-1 after Prince Albert tied the score in regulation time; and on Jan. 1, Regina erased a two-goal deficit to lead the game by a goal, only to have Prince Albert tie the game in the third period to force the extra period of play.
“It’s a character group,” Habscheid said of his team. “We’re not fun to play against. We’re gonna work, we’re gonna battle, we’re gonna scrap, do whatever we have to to win. The guys proved that tonight. They came up and they didn’t quit.”
Along with his set-up pass for the game-winning goal, Steel scored two of his own goals in the game, both in the second period. His four total points came on his 20th birthday.
He said he was happy to get the win; he also highlighted that the Raiders’ play was a good reminder of how his team cannot back down during games, no matter what type of lead it has.
The game was also indicative of the fact that all six team’s in the WHL’s East Division are not to be taken lightly. “It’s high-powered and fast. No lead is safe, and it’s a good division … you can’t sneak out wins having a bad night in this division. You’ve gotta show up to play,” the Pats captain said.
The Raiders (21-20-9-2) earned one point in their overtime loss to the Pats (27-22-5-0). After a Friday night win against the Saskatoon Blades (25-25-2-1), that Saturday night point now moves the Raiders into a tie for fifth place in the East Division with the Blades.
However, the Raiders have one game in hand over the Blades, plus a higher winning percentage. Therefore, if the playoffs started today, the Raiders would qualify ahead of the Blades as the Eastern Conference’s final wildcard playoff team.
The Raiders are off for the next three days. They next play on Wednesday, at home, against the Kootenay Ice (23-26-3-0) at the Art Hauser Centre. Game time is 7 p.m.