Strong start lifts Raiders past defending WHL champs

Herald file photo.

The Prince Albert Raiders got back in the win column, downing the defending WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds 3-2 at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington.

The Raiders would get off to a hot start in Kent, flipping the script on last Friday’s game in Kennewick against the Tri-City Americans.

Head coach Jeff Truitt says the Raiders came out strong from the drop of the puck.

“(It was) just the focus and determination. There were second efforts everywhere. We kept the puck in and that offense was on off a lot because we were jumping, reading, you know, we’re making great reads off of each other. It just wasn’t one guy, but it was all the guys in our defense that did a great job keeping pucks in. So we created momentum that way.”

After being held off the scoresheet for the previous two games, Ryder Ritchie would open the scoring at the 6:47 mark with a backhand shot off a spin move for his 12th goal of the season. Aiden Oiring and Sloan Stanick assisted on the play.

Less than a minute later, Niall Crocker would tip home a point shot for his seventh goal of the season. Easton Kovacs and Hayden Pakkala assisted on the play.

Kovacs was playing his first game back in Seattle since being acquired by the Raiders as part of the Nolan Allan trade last November. Brayden Dube was also a part of that trade package.

Truitt says playing against a former team can be special for players in the WHL.

“Anytime you’re coming back to your former team and you’re playing well, it’s always a thrill to come back and especially win against your old team. Playing against your old team has a lot of memories for them, but now they are Raiders and on the winning side of it tonight.”

The Raider power play would go to work later in the first period as Justice Christensen would score his fourth goal of the season at the 12:27 mark. Niall Crocker and Sloan Stanick assisted on the play.

Immediately following the third Raider goal, Seattle would make a goaltending change as Scott Ratzlaff would replace Spencer Michnik who gave up three goals on eleven shots.

Before the end of the first period, the Thunderbirds would chip into the Raider lead as rookie Antonio Martorana picked up his team-leading 8th goal of the season at the 19:00 mark of the game’s opening frame. Braeden Cootes and Hyde Davidson assisted on the play.

The Raiders outshot the Thunderbirds 17-6 in the first period.

The lone goal of the second period would come courtesy of Jeremy Hanzel at the 6:02 mark. The overage defenceman would fire a one timer on the power play that would beat Max Hildebrand for his sixth goal of the campaign. Jordan Gustafson and Sawyer Mynio assisted on the play.

Seattle would press for the game tying goal in the third period, but could not solve Max Hildebrand who made 26 saves to earn the victory in goal.

Truitt says Hildebrand has been key for the Raiders so far this season.

“He’s been pretty consistent most of the way here. There’s comfort in that crease and there’s time for him to to stand up and make those saves. (He’s) an athletic goaltender who can read and react off of things real quick and (is) gaining confidence. That’s what you need in your net.”

Scott Ratzlaff made 20 saves in relief of Spencer Michnik.

The Raiders return to action on Wednesday night when they take on the Everett Silvertips at the Angel of the Winds Arena. Puck drops at 9 p.m. Saskatchewan time