The Prince Albert Raiders knocked off the WHL’s top-ranked Victoria Royals 4-3 on Wednesday night after firing 37 shots on goal and stifling the B.C. team’s speed through the neutral zone.
The Raiders went into the game knowing that the Victoria team would pose similar challenges to what they faced against the visiting Vancouver Giants on Oct. 17: Quick speed through the neutral zone powered by smaller, skilled forwards like Tyler Soy and Matthew Phillips.
The Raiders defensive unit effectively shut down the Royal’s high-powered scoring duo, limiting the pair to only a point each (one goal for Soy, which Phillips assisted on).
Phillips managed three shots on Raiders’ goalie Ian Scott while Soy could only muster one. At the game’s end, the Royals managed just 23 shots on goal.
“They’re quick, skilled, little, shifty guys, and what you gotta do on those guys is just play physical, keep your stick on the puck and not let them get by,” defenceman Max Martin said.
“I thought we did that for the most part. Other than that one goal they got, we were pretty solid back there on those guys.”
Whereas the Giants seemed to catch the Raiders on their heels a week ago, on Wednesday the Raiders were prepared for the high-paced, up-tempo style of play from the Royals.
They used stubborn pressure through the neutral zone to slow down their opponent’s speedy wingers, a task that the defencemen and the forwards took up.
Winger Devon Skoleski, who scored his team’s third goal at 7:07 of the final period, said the neutral-zone blockade was part of his team’s game plan.
“I think our systems kind of played a big role in that. Everyone was on the same page. And I just think we stuck with it – no one was trying to do too much, and I think we all just played our game.”
Explaining the game plan, head coach Marc Habscheid said “we wanted especially their smaller guys to work through traffic. And they’re still skilled – they’re going to get their chances. But it’s easier (for us) if they have to play in traffic.”
The Raiders and the Royals played to a scoreless first period in which the home team outshot the visitors 13-7. The Raiders established their dominance in the neutral zone and stifled Soy and Phillips throughout the period.
By the end of the second period, Victoria was up 2-1 on Prince Albert.
Ogema, Sask., native Regan Nagy scored at 3:04 of the frame. His wrist shot on Scott just squeezed through the goalie’s blocker side and slid along the ice past the goal line.
Fifty seconds later, Raiders’ points leader Jordy Stallard tapped the puck into the open top shelf of the Royals’ net, after defenceman Sergei Sapego fed him the puck from down low on the opposite side of goalie Dean McNabb.
Igor Martynov’s tip in front the Raiders’ net at 11:47 restored his team’s lead.
Habsheid said he wasn’t satisfied with the first two periods of the game.
“We weren’t at our best. It was kind of an emotionless game on both sides, I thought, for the first two periods.”
Martin said the Raiders regrouped during the intermission before the third period.
Cole Fonstad tied the game at 2-2 at 3:34 into the final frame, after tapping the puck past McNabb during a scramble in front of his crease. Martin and Stallard assisted.
Just under four minutes later, Skoleski’s short-handed goal put his team ahead 3-2 after McNabb failed to glove the winger’s wrist shot. Defenceman Brayden Pachal assisted on Skoleski’s goal.
The Royals then tied the score at 3-3 at 9:47, when Phillips fed a quick pass to an open Soy who slipped past his defender in the slot.
The 20-year-old put the puck top shelf on Scott’s right side.
Less than one minute later, Martin scored the game-winning goal on a wrist shot from the point, after Skoleski fed him the puck from McNabb’s left faceoff circle.
“We had a good cycle going in the offensive zone. Skoleski found me up top, and I just got around the (Royals’ defender) and shot it. I think it hit someone (on the way in),” he said of his goal.
“I just thought the guys in the room, obviously the leaders, did a real good job of getting everybody going for the third period, Because in the third period, we were really good,” Habsheid said.
The Raiders matched their first period success of limiting the Royals’ scoring chances and stifling their speed through the neutral zone. They increased their puck possession and cycling in their opponents’ zone during the final frame.
NOTES: Both teams killed off the two penalties the referees called on each of them, but Skoleski’s goal was the one knock on Victoria’s powerplay unit … Scott’s 20 saves on 23 shots gave him a 0.87 save percentage … McNabb earned a 0.892 save percentage, stopping 33 of 37 shots … The Raiders sit in fifth place in the WHL’s East division, with a 5-4-3-0 record … Their next game is at home on Friday against the Brandon Wheat Kings; game time is 7 p.m.