Raiders return to play, starting with Alberta road swing

Reece Vitelli and the Prince Albert Raiders return to action on Friday night against the Hurricanes in Lethbridge. --Kyle Kosowan/Daily Herald

After their second nine day break in the past month, the Prince Albert Raiders will make their return to the ice on Friday when they travel to Lethbridge to take on the Hurricanes.

The first break was the holiday break, a planned one. Their second break was not by choice. The WHL’s COVID-19 protocols forced multiple teams, including all five clubs from Saskatchewan, to pause all team activities. On Monday, the Raiders were one of eight teams allowed to resume practices and games.

Raider captain Reece Vitelli says despite only having a few practices over the last two weeks, his team was connecting well again on the ice.

“We’ve been a little anxious to get back into it,” Vitelli said. “We’ve been practicing hard the last couple days and getting back into things. We’ve been doing everything we can to get ready for our game on Friday and I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

The Raiders can now begin their Alberta road swing starting in Lethbridge, where they’ll meet the Hurricanes for the second time this season. After two games against the Swift Current Broncos were postponed on Jan. 7 and 8, as well as a meeting against Edmonton on Jan. 11, the Raiders will be playing their first game since Jan. 2. That game was a 5-2 victory at home against the Oil Kings.

Despite having back to back long breaks between games, Vitelli said the team wasn’t heavily impacted by the way the schedule has worked lately.

“Obviously it slows down our momentum with a little roadblock in the path, but we’re all young adults and in good shape,” he said. “These couple of breaks haven’t been huge for us, and getting those couple of skates in definitely helped us get back into the swing of things.”

The Raiders head into Lethbridge after only having practiced together since Tuesday. Vitelli reiterated how important those sessions have been in helping Prince Albert get set for their road trip.

“This week at practice has been key (to) getting back in and focusing on our game and all of our systems again,” he said. “Coach has done a great job in getting us focused, and I think we’ll be ready for Friday.”

The Hurricanes were also forced to pause team activities at the start of the month. One of the first teams that were prohibited from any activity, Lethbridge had 14 players in the WHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.

After not playing since Dec. 28, a 5-2 loss against the Broncos, Lethbridge played their first game back on Wednesday, once again taking on Swift Current. An exciting overtime win gave the Hurricanes their fifth win over their last eight contests. Logan Wormald scored twice, including the overtime winner. Former Raider Tyson Laventure, who was traded to Lethbridge on Dec. 31, helped with a secondary assist on the game winning goal.

The last time Prince Albert took on the Hurricanes was way back on Oct. 23, in just their ninth game of the regular season. Lethbridge came away with a home victory, scoring three goals in the final five minutes of the third period. Alex Thacker scored twice for the Hurricanes, including the eventual game winning goal with 1:11 left in regulation. Logan Barlage, an overage forward from Humboldt, also had a big night, chipping in with three assists. Evan Herman scored twice for Prince Albert in the loss.

The Raiders drop the puck in Lethbridge on Friday at 7pm. On Saturday, they head to Calgary for an early 2:30pm game against the Hitmen.