That is what the Prince Albert Raiders are going to have to take this year as they try and rebound from a dismal 2011-12 Western Hockey League campaign.
And, they took their first small step on Friday when they battled the Saskatoon Blades to a 2-1 shootout loss in the season opener for both teams, played at the Art Hauser Centre.
“As a team we played really good at times,” said German import Leon Draisaitl following his inaugural WHL game. “We are playing in the right direction. We just have to keep it up.”
Following a glittering opening ceremony to introduce the current edition of the Raiders to more than 2,700 fans, during which the 16-year-old Draisaitl received the loudest ovation, the teams battled through a scoreless opening 20 minutes of play.
It wasn’t until Antoine Corbin fired a bullet from the point, while the teams were playing four-on-four, with just over six minutes remaining in the middle session did the deadlock get broken.
Draisaitl, who led the Raiders in scoring during four pre-season games, got an assist on Corbin’s tally, but still the gifted winger noticed a change from exhibition to regular-season action.
“It was way different from pre-season games,” said Draisaitl, who played the first two periods on a line with Mark McNeill and Jonas Knutsen, but was used sparingly in the final 20 minutes as the Raiders pushed hard to record the win.
That push became even harder after Christian Stockl had tied the game less than three minutes into the third period with both goaltenders – Luke Siemens for Prince Albert and Andrey Makarov for the Blades – turning in brilliant performances. Siemens faced 40 shots in the Raider goal while Prince Albert directed 41 at Makarov.
A five-minute overtime session settled nothing and after the Blades grabbed a 2-1 advantage in the shootout, Draisaitl was given the opportunity to bring Prince Albert even, but he missed the net entirely from about 10 feet out.
“The shootout, it is a lot of luck,” said Draisaitl, who was obviously disappointed he couldn’t come through for his teammates.
RAIDER NOTES: With 24 players still on the roster, the Raiders sat out four, including three defensemen. Not dressed were Mackenzie Stewart, Evan Morden, Riley Guenther and 16-year-old Spencer Meyers. Two other 16-year-olds – Tim Vanstone and Reid Gardiner – did dress for the game, but saw limited ice time… It wasn’t until the fifth game last year that the Raiders got their first point as they were winless in the first four… Prince Albert lost a total of 19 games by one goal last year…The same two teams will get right back at it tonight when the Blades have their home opener in front of what is expected to be a large crowd at Saskatchewan Place. Prince Albert’s next home game is next Friday when the Moose Jaw Warriors pay a visit to the Art Hauser Centre.