The Prince Albert Raiders put an exclamation point on the first half of their Western Hockey League season when they blanked the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings 3-0 on Sunday at the Art Hauser Centre.
Having won just 21 games all of last year, Sunday‚Äôs win was their 22nd this season and gives them an eight-point lead over the red-hot Saskatoon Blades for first place in the East Division standings.
It was an important game for the Raiders in spite of what it meant for a comparison analysis. Prince Albert was coming off back-to-back sub-par performances against weaker opponents ‚Äď 3-0 loss in Regina and 5-4 shootout loss to Kootenay - and needed Sunday‚Äôs victory to send the club into the holiday break on a positive note.
‚ÄúThis is the time of year when you have to have that type of energy,‚ÄĚ admitted Raiders‚Äô head coach Steve Young. ‚ÄúBut, I think it is important for the players to get away and it is important for them to understand the second half (of the season) is going to be tougher.‚ÄĚ
The Raiders were a bit slow getting out of the gate against Brandon, but when they found their legs the outcome never really was in doubt.
Carson Perreaux scored in the first period, Chance Braid added another in the middle frame and Anthony Bardaro finished off the scoring with a power-play marker in the final minute of play.
Luke Siemens was once again at his very best as the 20-year-old stopped all 35 shots he faced to record his fourth shutout of the season. The shutout matched his total from all of last year when he blanked opposing teams four times while with the Moose Jaw Warriors and it was the 10th shutout of his career. The Raider record for shutouts in a season is six by Rejean Beauchemin in 2003-04.
Young says it was important for Siemens to have a strong game, but he also noted that in the second half, Andy Desautels will likely get some extra starts so that Siemens can be ready for the stretch run.
‚ÄúThe last couple of games Luke wasn‚Äôt at his best so we felt we had to give him a chance to go again,‚ÄĚ said Young. ‚ÄúWith Luke it is important over the break that he gets some rest.‚ÄĚ
The Raider players will leave for their respective homes today and return to Prince Albert on Boxing Day to get ready for what should be an exciting home-and-home series with the Blades. The two rivals have not seen each other since opening weekend when they split a doubleheader, but with Saskatoon having won their last six games, it will be a real test for the Raiders and crucial on maintaining their lead in the standings. Prince Albert hosts the Blades on Dec. 28 with the two teams squaring off again on Dec. 29 at Credit Union Centre.
RAIDER NOTES: The Raiders were without Evan Morden, Jonas Knutsen and Leon Draisaitl on Sunday as Morden completed a four-game suspension for a hit-to-the-head major penalty he received in Kootenay on Dec. 7 while Knutsen is in France with the Norwegian national junior team and Draisaitl is with the German national junior team preparing for the world junior tournament that starts on Boxing Day in Ufa, Russia‚Ä¶The second segment of the Molson Cup three star awards were presented prior to the game with Mike Winther finishing first, Siemens coming in second and Bardaro placing third‚Ä¶Dylan Stewart, the 15-year-old fifth-round pick of the Raiders in this year‚Äôs bantam draft, returned to Edmonton on Saturday after playing with Prince Albert in Regina on Thursday and at home against Kootenay on Friday.