Raiders ready for southern Alberta weekend road trip

Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald. Grady Martin of the Prince Albert Raiders engages in a fight with Nate Corbet of the Medicine Hat Tigers during WHL action at the Art Hauser Centre earlier this season.

In the midst of a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, the Prince Albert Raiders are hoping for some road success this weekend as they will head to southern Alberta for road dates with the Medicine Hat Tigers and Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Raider head coach Jeff Truitt says Prince Albert will need to be prepared to play against two talented teams.

“They’ve got dynamic skill and good goaltending at both ends. Both back ends are big and strong and we’re going have to try to penetrate things by playing smart and not reinventing the wheel because they’ll shut you down in a hurry but both are quick teams that are gonna push space.”

Special teams will be a key focus for the Raiders to secure victories on the road. Both Medicine Hat and Lethbridge rank in the top five in the WHL in penalty killing. The Tigers sit fourth in the league and have killed 81.5% of man advantages. Lethbridge ranks third, killing penalties at an 82.1% clip.

The Raider power play ranks 10th in the WHL with Prince Albert scoring on 23.0% of opportunities so far this season.

Truitt says the Raiders will need to get as many pucks on net as possible to find success against some of the top penalty killing teams in the league.

“The four man units on the penalty kill, they work very well together. Both teams have them in tune. When you get opportunities, you got to put pucks to the net. You can’t be slowing things down. You got to (have) a shot first mentality, get pucks to the net and create some opportunities that way. So, we’ve got to shoot more.”

Including this weekend’s road trip, the Raiders have six road games remaining on their regular season schedule. The two games this weekend are the only times the Raiders will play outside of the Saskatchewan/Central time zone.

Truitt says the Raiders are looking to play well regardless of what building the team is playing in down the stretch.

“Being at home or being close to home is one thing, but we’ve always stressed that it doesn’t matter where we play. We’ve got to play the same way and look for that consistency in our games. To have that last overnight road trip away in Alberta, towards the end of the season you’re not going to have to face those guys on the road. They’re two very good home teams and we’ve got to make sure that we’re raising our level at a desperate time.”

Grady Martin has connections to southern Alberta. The 17-year-old Oyen, Alberta product posted 16 points in 37 games for the Lethbridge U18 AAA Hurricanes back in the 2021-22 campaign, right before he got selected by the Raiders in the second round of the 2021 WHL Prospects Draft.

The Raiders have suffered some serious road woes since the Christmas break, dropping their last 10 games played away from the Art Hauser Centre.

Martin says Prince Albert will need to come out focused to return to finding the road success the team had earlier in the season.

“I think we just need to not take it too casual when you go right off the start and send a message early that we don’t care where we’re playing, what barn we’re in, what crowd we’re around. We’re ready to play always.”

“Every game is important with the push in mind. They’re just as important as home games, they’re wins, they’re two points, we really need them.”

Reinforcements will be arriving to the Raider lineup in the near future. Standout forward Ryder Ritchie has been out of the lineup with a lower body injury suffered during a collision back on Dec. 15 against the Kelowna Rockets.

Prior to the injury, Ritchie had posted 13 goals and 18 assists in 34 games. Despite being out of the lineup for nearly two months, Ritchie still ranks fourth on the Raiders in scoring.

Truitt says Ritchie is eager to get back on the ice for the Raiders, but a decision about his return is still yet to be made.

“He’s close, but we still (have) got to make that decision whether or not he’s going to go. What he’s been through here over the last couple weeks has been very promising. It’s been great to see the progression of things that have happened. He wants to go and I’m not concerned about that whatsoever. We believe that he’s real close. When he’s ready to go, it’s going to be both parties sitting down and deciding that.”

Puck drops Friday night at 8 p.m. Saskatchewan time in Medicine Hat. The game against Lethbridge on Saturday has an earlier then usual start time with the puck dropping at 7 p.m. Saskatchewan time from the Enmax Centre.