Raiders to welcome Oil Kings, Tigers to Art Hauser Centre this weekend

Herald File Photo. Prince Albert Raiders captain Eric Johnston lines up across from Medicine Hat Tiger forward Andrew Basha during WHL action at the Art Hauser Centre.

With the finish line on the 2023-24 WHL campaign in sight, the Prince Albert Raiders (29-27-1-3) are still in the playoff hunt and looking for a little home cooking this weekend as they welcome two Central division opponents to the Art Hauser Centre.

The Edmonton Oil Kings (22-35-2-1) and Medicine Hat Tigers (34-19-5-2) are on the docket for the Raiders, with both teams making their final regular season visits to the Art Hauser Centre.

The Oil Kings will be in town on Friday and have played the Raiders tough despite being near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Edmonton shut out the Raiders at the Art Hauser Centre back on October 3 and won the last meeting between the two sides at Roger’s Place by a 6-4 decision on January 19.

Raider head coach Jeff Truitt says Prince Albert will need to play to their strengths against the Oil Kings.

“Edmonton plays a very structured game. They’re hard on the puck. Obviously, they get some offense from (Marc) Lajoie on the back end, they’ve got some guys up front that can really do some damage. They’re probably looking to play spoiler here a little bit, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re not complicating things. We’ve got to keep the game simple for us.”

The Raiders currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, only a single point up on Lethbridge who hold the eighth and final playoff spot.

Even with the Oil Kings sitting last in the conference, captain Eric Johnston says Prince Albert is taking nothing for granted.

“They’ve had a tough go, but they’ve beat us twice. I don’t think we have any reason to take them lightly and with the circumstances given, we need every game we can get.”

Johnston originally started his WHL career as an Edmonton Oil King after he was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft, 126th overall. The pick used to select Johnston was acquired by Edmonton in a 2017 trade that sent Branden Klatt to the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Johnston found himself heading to Prince Albert in December 2021 as he was part of the return the Raiders received in the blockbuster Kaiden Guhle trade.

Johnston says facing his former team always motivates him.

“With the rebuild and stuff, I still have a couple buddies on that team, so it’s always good to play against him. It always means a little bit more as they traded me, so (I’m) trying to play my best and obviously a big two points for the standings.”

On Saturday night, the Raiders will welcome the Central division leading Medicine Hat Tigers. The Raiders have won the last two meetings, downing the Tigers 3-2 on home ice back on February 3 and skated to a 2-1 shootout win at Co-op Place on February 16.

Truitt says the Raiders are going to focus on their own end of the ice during practice this week in preparation for the Tigers.

“Medicine Hat has a very highly talented, flowing team. Defense is going to be a primary, priority importance for us leading into that game. With both teams, we’ve got to be able to take advantage of any offensive chances that we do get.”

Medicine Hat has scored the second most goals in the Eastern Conference this season, finding the back of the net 255 times in 60 games, or an average of 4.25 goals per game.

Prince Albert has kept the Tigers contained in the last two meetings holding the talented Medicine Hat squad to just three goals.

Truitt says the Raiders have done a good job at playing tight defense against Medicine Hat.

“We’re not cheating on offense. We’re not getting on the wrong side of people. They have to come through us. That’s a big thing with Medicine Hat. They can squirt themselves out of tight areas and make small area plays that are skilled and aware enough that they can open up holes. We’ve got to make sure that we’re playing tight and on the right side of people.”

The Tigers are led offensively by 16-year-old standout Gavin McKenna (29G, 57A), Shane Smith (28G, 22A) and Cayden Lindstrom (27G, 19A) who is listed as week-to-week with injury.

Johnston says the Raiders will need to play smart to slow down the potent Tiger attack.

“(They’re) definitely a high offensive threat team who runs off their power play, likes to score a lot of goals and play off the rush. I think we just got to play good defensive hockey and play our structure and systems, the Raider way..”

The Raiders secured four points last week, downing the Red Deer Rebels on home ice and picking up a road win over the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Truitt says he liked what he saw early from the Raiders in both games and the team is looking for more of the same this weekend.

“Starts are going to be important here, and to get the momentum is going to be key. And it’s always better to play aggressively rather than standing around and having miscues (or) missed assignments. We want to let our offence and our speed take over. That’s something that we did in the victories. We were hungry in our re-attacks in the offensive zone. I thought we did a great job.”

Puck drops at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday night at the Art Hauser Centre.