Raiders fall short in Saskatoon

Saskatoon Blades centreman Josh Paterson (61) cycles the puck behind the net while Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Zack Hayes checks him during their Dec. 10, 2017 WHL game from Saskatoon. Steve Hiscock/Saskatoon Blades

Fresh off their Christmas break, the Prince Albert Raiders couldn’t beat the Saskatoon Blades on the road, falling 4-2 to their highway 11 rivals in Western Hockey League action Wednesday night.

“I didn’t like the bite in our game tonight. Our best players weren’t our best players tonight,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said after the loss.

Playing in front of an announced crowd of 3,395 spectators at Saskatoon’s SaskTel Centre, the Blades jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first ten minutes of the opening period.

The Raiders wasted little time responding.

Forward Brett Leason scored on the powerplay at 12:44 to cut the deficit in half; Devon Skoleski then tied the game at 2-2 a mere 38 seconds later. Defenceman Max Martin assisted on both goals.

But that was all the scoring the Raiders could muster, which came back to bite them.

Blades 20-year-old centreman Cameron Hebig scored what would be the game-winning goal at 12:16 of the second period. Just over a minute past that, Jackson Caller added the insurance goal on P.A. netminder Ian Scott.

Habscheid tipped his hat to Blades rookie goalie Nolan Maier; the Yorkton, Sask., native stopped 20 of the 22 Raiders’ shots he faced for the win.

But Habscheid also underscored his team’s lack of compete and lack of effort on the night.

“Compete and effort are non-negotiable, and they weren’t there for our guys tonight,” he said. “Usually that’s not a problem for us, but tonight it was.”

At the game’s end, the Blades fired 42 total shots on Scott. His 38 saves on 42 shots earned him a 0.904 save percentage.

With the loss, the Raiders (13-15-5-2) fall to sixth place in the WHL’s East division for the first time this year.

After their win, plus a Regina Pats loss to Brandon on Wednesday, the Blades (16-17-2-1) now move up to the division’s fourth spot to claim the Eastern conference’s seventh spot and first playoff wildcard spot.

The Pats now fall to fifth place and hold the conference’s final wildcard spot.

The Raiders and Blades return to action Thursday night from P.A.’s Art Hauser Centre for a rematch at 7 p.m. Saskatoon so far holds the regular season series lead at 2 games to 1.