With more than 200 games of Western Hockey League experience under his belt, Anthony Bardaro is expected to be a leader on a team that continues to turn things around.
So far, the 20-year-old from Delta, B.C., has done just that as the Prince Albert Raiders will try and stretch their lead atop the Eastern Conference standings tonight when they host the defending WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
“All our leaders have to carry some responsibility,” says Raiders’ head coach Steve Young. “For the most part, he and the rest of the leadership guys have provided what we want them to provide.”
“Every player wants that opportunity to be an important guy,” adds Bardaro. “I’m trying to take advantage of that.”
Bardaro is in his first full season with the Raiders after spending two-plus years with the Spokane Chiefs. The smooth-skating forward joined the Raiders shortly after Christmas last year and in 34 games in Prince Albert scored 18 goals and added 19 assists – the exact same numbers he put up in 29 games with the Chiefs before the trade.
That performance made him a lock to be one of the three overage players on the team this season and in 14 games he has scored five while setting up eight more. Some might say more was expected, but Bardaro’s performance is a huge reason why the Raiders have moved from the cellar to the penthouse.
“Our line is doing good,” says Bardaro, who has played mostly with captain Mark McNeill and import winger Jonas Knutsen. “We need a little bit of puck luck. Hockey is a weird game in that sense.”
Young agrees that Bardaro will turn things up even higher as the season goes on.
“Sometimes you have to fight through things and we believe he will be where we want him to be when it is all over,” says Young.
The Raiders and Oil Kings have already met once this year with Prince Albert winning 4-1 in Edmonton early last month. Last year, Edmonton won all four meetings, outscoring Prince Albert 22-9. Bardaro knows the Raiders will have to be ready as the Oil Kings are playing a lot better than when they first met this year and are now within one point of knocking Prince Albert out of first overall in the Eastern Conference.
“They are a strong team,” acknowledged Bardaro. “They are fast and skilled and we will have to be at our best to beat them.”
RAIDER NOTES: Bardaro needs four points for 150 in his career…Prince Albert is still in the Canadian Hockey League’s top 10 as they hold the No. 10 spot. It is the fourth straight week the team is on the list with the Kamloops Blazers continuing to lead the way…Tonight is a special night at the Art Hauser Centre as former NHL goaltender Curtis Joseph will be in attendance signing autographs and also during the first intermission he will be in goal stopping shots from select fans. Joseph is the guest speaker at the sportsman banquet on Saturday that will honour Graham Peterson, Katelyn Lehner and the Friday Night Lights Committee…The Raiders will be wearing special jerseys tonight sponsored by Conexus Credit Union. The jerseys will be auctioned after the game…Tonight is the last game of a seven-game homestand for the Raiders. They will travel to Regina on Saturday for their first road game since a 9-0 loss in Moose Jaw on Oct. 13. Prince Albert will then return home for a pair of games next week against Swift Current and Seattle before embarking on a six-game trip that will span two weeks…Prince Albert will have Davis Vandane and Dakota Conroy back in the line-up tonight as both, along with departed defenseman Shayne Gwinner, were suspended for Tuesday’s shootout win over Swift Current for violating team rules…Reid Gardiner is the only Raider unavailable for tonight’s game as he is still recovering from an upper-body injury incurred nearly three weeks ago.