The stage was set, the curtain rose, the crowd at the Art Hauser was buzzing at edge of their seats in anticipation and the lights were shining bright at the Art Hauser Centre as the Prince Albert Raiders opened the 2023-24 WHL campaign on home ice with a 4-0 win against the Moose Jaw Warriors on Friday night.
Raider head coach Jeff Truitt says the team had to grind before pulling away in the third period
“I thought we worked hard early on in the first period. You have a 6-0 shot advantage, take a couple penalties and it’s 10-10. You get up 1-0 on the power play, which is great. It was a slug out, a bit of a battle but I thought we carried the play pretty well. In the third period, we broke it loose on the four-on-four and took it from there.”
In the first regular season at the Art Hauser Centre in nearly six months, the Raider faithful of 3,025 were behind the home team all night long
“It was tremendous.” Truitt said about the crowd. “You could hear the fans and they were very appreciative of the effort. They were loud and it came as advertised. It’s so good to play in front of these people.”
Neither team would strike in the opening frame, but there would be opportunities each way as the shot clock was even at 10 aside after twenty minutes of play.
Prince Albert would kill off a pair of minor penalties in the first period and would not convert on their only chance with a man advantage in the frame.
Justice would be served by the Raiders on the power play 10:29 into the second period. A point shot by Justice Christensen would beat Warrior netminder Jackson Unger to give the homeside Raiders a 1-0 lead. Aiden Oiring had the lone helper on the play.
Just over a minute after Christensen goal, Easton Kovacs would be sent off an inference minor penalty. Prince Albert would kill the penalty successfully.
Truitt says the special teams were crucial for the Raiders all night long.
“We could’ve let them right back in the game with a goal. Our penalty kill did a great job, we were three for three on the penalty kill and one for two on the power play. You win those special teams and that’s the difference most nights.I thought we did a good job tonight.”
Shots were once again knotted after 40 minutes, this time at 24 aside.
Insurance would come in a flash in the third period for the Raiders as Aiden Oiring would register his second point of the night just 0:28 in. Ryder Ritchie and Justice Christensen would provide the helpers.
Just over a minute and a half later, 2023 Import Draft first rounder Krzysztof Macias would add to the Raider lead with his first goal in the Western Hockey League. Brayden Dube and Harrison Lodewyk assisted on the play.
“I think it was a bit of a greasy goal and maybe lucky.” Macias said about his goal. “We did some faceoff stuff and I went for the rebound since that’s where goals are scored the most. I was lucky it went behind the goalie’s back and into the back of the net. I’m happy to score and I hope the team will win.”
The reigning WHL Rookie of the Year wouldn’t be held off the scoreboard on opening night as Ryder Ritchie would snipe his 1st goal of the campaign high glove side past Unger to give the Raiders a 4-0 advantage at the 4:46 mark. Sloan Stanick would have the lone assist on the play.
Prince Albert outshot the Warriors 23-4 in the third period.
Max Hildebrand earned his first career WHL shutout stopping all 28 shots he faced.
Truitt says Hildebrand stood his ground through the game.
“He had to stand strong and he faced some quality shots, but he did an excellent job swallowing them up and there weren’t a lot of rebounds to be had. He was very efficient in there.”
“It’s tremendous for Max. Being able to get that here in our building with his first opening game for us. He’s put in the work in the offseason and he came in great shape. He’s gotten better and better every year here.”
Hildebrand gave a lot of credit to the players in front of him during his postgame press conference.
“Obviously, it was a big win to get the year started. Wish I would have had one (shutout) last year or the year before. I got the nerves out early and got going. It was an easy game for me, the d-man boxed out nice and cleared rebounds. There were a lot of big blocks tonight.”
The Raiders return to action Sunday afternoon in Saskatoon against the Blades. Puck drops at 4 p.m.
Around The WHL
Zac Funk posted five points (3G, 2A) as the Prince George Cougars defeated the Tri-City Americans 9-0 on home ice.
Braxton Whitehead played overtime hero for the Regina Pats as they won a wild 7-6 affair in Brandon to start their season.
Shellbrook’s Ashton Ferster recorded an assist for the Kamloops Blazers in their 5-4 OT loss to the Spokane Chiefs.
Former Raider Carson Latimer scored for Red Deer as the Rebels lost 4-2 to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The Wenatchee Wild won their first home game in franchise history, erasing a 4-1 deficit to defeat the Portland Winterhawks 6-5.