Raiders rout Hitmen

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Prince Albert Raiders forward Spencer Moe celebrates after Brayden Watts' shot beat Calgary Hitmen goalie Jack McNaughton during the first period of play on Tuesday night.

Like they did on Saturday night against the Saskatoon Blades, the Prince Albert Raiders used a dominant first period performance to propel themselves to a win at the Art Hauser Centre.

Their latest victim was the Calgary Hitmen, who fell behind 4-0 in the opening frame and could only watch as the Raiders picked up an 8-3 triumph.

“I don’t think that far back,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid joked. “I’m not that smart.

“Their goalie (Jack McNaughton) had a tough night to be fair, but I really liked our energy and I thought our ability to get the puck back after we lost it was key.”

The Hitmen didn’t go away quietly, however, as they got goals from Cael Zimmerman and Mark Kastelic in a 12-second span to draw within a pair after the five minute mark of the middle stanza.

After taking a timeout to regroup, the Raiders restored their four-goal cushion midway through the frame and never looked back.

“The key part though was when it was 4-2 and Calgary got an odd-man rush that “Pads” (Max Paddock) made a good save on,” Habscheid said. “Otherwise, it would be a 4-3 game at that point.

“We knew that Calgary would have a good push after being down like that. We got into trouble a little bit after killing some penalties, but the guys were able to gather themselves up and they did a good job.”

The Raiders top line led the way on Tuesday as Brayden Watts had two goals and an assist, while Spencer Moe and Aliaksei Protas lit the lamp and dished out two helpers.

“Our line has really been working hard over the last couple of games and it was a matter of time before those chances started to pay off,” Watts said.

“We also got some bounces tonight but I think that comes from hard work.”

Ilya Usau also had a goal and two assists for the hosts, who received a two-goal outing from Reece Vitelli.

“He’s kind of like a swiss army knife,” Habscheid said.

“Reece does a lot of things for us. He’s out there on faceoffs and special teams, so we ask a lot out of him at times. He’s a good two-way player and he’s a great guy in the room.”

Kaiden Guhle had two assists in the victory, which also saw Zack Hayes light the lamp and a 24-save showing from Paddock.

Zimmerman, who is a former member of the Prince Albert Mintos, led the way on offence for the visitors with a two-goal night.

Carson Focht had a pair of assists for the 34-22-4-1 Hitmen, who have lost their last three games, while McNaughton turned aside 36 shots.

The 35-17-5-4 Raiders, who have won three straight games and now have a five-point advantage over the Brandon Wheat Kings for first place in the East Division, will now gear up for a busy weekend.

They will welcome the Wheat Kings to town on Friday before a rematch in Brandon the following night and a visit to the Winnipeg Ice on Sunday.

“I think we just need to be consistent with our intensity,” Watts said.

“We did a really good job of coming out strong against Saskatoon on Saturday, but then we backed off a little bit against Moose Jaw on Sunday. We just need to keep elevating our game.”

Post-Game Notes

The only drawback of Tuesday’s contest for the Raiders came in the second period when Justin Nachbaur limped off the ice and did not return.

Habscheid didn’t have a full update on the forward’s condition after the game but did say that the 19-year-old is day-to-day with a “body injury.”

The Raiders are already without forward Matthew Culling, who was injured on a hit by Saskatoon Blades blueliner Rhett Reinhart on Friday night at the SaskTel Centre.

In addition to matching their season high in goals, which occurred in an 8-4 affair against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Oct. 12 at the Art Hauser Centre, the Raiders also scored eight goals on the Hitmen for the third time in the last two seasons.

The Raiders earned an 8-4 home victory on Oct. 16, 2018 and picked up an 8-2 win on Feb. 8, 2019 in Calgary.

Tuesday’s triumph was the sixth in a row for the Raiders over the Hitmen in Prince Albert, which is a streak that started on Sept. 29, 2017.

The Eastern Conference foes also split their season series with two wins apiece for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign.

Ozzy Wiesblatt had an assist on Ilya Usau’s third period goal, which increased his point streak to a career high nine games.

Mark Kastelic’s second period marker gave him a point in 11 straight games and Riley Stotts increased his run of form to eight games with a helper on that play.

Culling was the lone scratch for the Raiders, while the Hitmen did not dress Egor Zamula, Andrew Viggars, Josh Prokop and Conrad Mitchell.

Tuesday’s Scores

  • Medicine Hat 5 Swift Current 2 (Ryan Chyzowski – Three Goals – Second Hat Trick This Season)
  • Regina 7 Moose Jaw 4 (Cole Carrier – Two Goals and One Assist)

Around the WHL

After wrapping up his Midget AAA career with the Prince Albert Mintos this weekend, goaltender Spencer Welke made his first WHL start on Tuesday and stopped 20 shots in a 7-4 home win for the Regina Pats over the Moose Jaw Warriors.

The 18-year-old from Yorkton signed a contract with the Pats in October and will be with the club for the remainder of the season.

The Kelowna Rockets announced on Monday that Kris Mallette had the interim tag dropped from his job title and will be the head coach of the club going forward.

Mallette, who took over the role from Adam Foote on Feb. 19, has a 3-1-1-1 record as the bench boss for this year’s Memorial Cup hosts.

Pre-Game Notes

Heading into this weekend’s home-and-home series, the Raiders have won three out of four matchups over the Wheat Kings, with their lone loss coming in a 1-0 affair on Jan. 3 in Brandon.

The 34-21-4-2 Wheat Kings, who are on a three game win streak, are currently five points up on the Winnipeg Ice for second place in the East Division.

Forward Ridly Greig enters the contest on a career high six game point streak, while Jiri Patera is tied with Max Paddock for the second most shutouts in the league with five.

Prince Albert product Braden Schneider, who is expected to be a first round pick in June’s NHL Draft, has a career high 42 points in 58 games to sit fifth in team scoring.

Nolan Ritchie is the only long-term injury for the Wheat Kings, while Marcus Kallionkieli and Ty Thorpe are both day-to-day with aliments.

Wednesday’s Schedule

  • Calgary vs. Saskatoon – 7 p.m.
  • Spokane vs. Edmonton – 8 p.m.
  • Vancouver vs. Kamloops – 9 p.m.
  • Tri-City vs. Portland – 9 p.m.
  • Lethbridge vs. Prince George – 9 p.m.

Friday’s Schedule

  • Winnipeg vs. Moose Jaw – 7 p.m.
  • Brandon vs. Prince Albert – 7 p.m.
  • Regina vs. Saskatoon – 7 p.m.
  • Swift Current vs. Edmonton – 8 p.m.
  • Spokane vs. Red Deer – 8 p.m.
  • Calgary vs. Medicine Hat – 8:30 p.m.
  • Lethbridge vs. Kamloops – 9 p.m.
  • Vancouver vs. Prince George – 9 p.m.
  • Seattle vs. Kelowna – 9 p.m.
  • Tri-City vs. Everett – 9:30 p.m.