The way the Prince Albert Raiders are going, Mark McNeill and Leon Draisaitl might have to work their way back into the line-up when they return from the world junior hockey championship currently being staged in Ufa, Russia.
That, obviously, won‚Äôt happen, but the talented duo, along with regular winger Jonas Knutsen, might be taking a backseat to Anthony Bardaro, Logan McVeigh and Dakota Conroy as the No. 1 line as that trio is red-hot following a sweep of the Saskatoon Blades on the weekend.
‚ÄúWe knew it wasn‚Äôt going to be easy, but getting the four points is gratifying,‚ÄĚ said Raiders head coach Steve Young after the Raiders won 4-2 at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon on Saturday. ‚ÄúWe kind of had question marks coming back after Christmas with the missing players.
‚ÄúIt was a big test and we will see how it goes this week,‚ÄĚ added Young.
McNeill is with Team Canada and Draisaitl is getting plenty of notice with the German squad. As two of the Raiders‚Äô offensive stars, there was some concern when the club returned to action after the Christmas break, but those concerns have been put to rest.
Bardaro, who scored the winning marker, and added three assists, in the Raiders‚Äô 5-4 win in Prince Albert on Friday, notched a hat-trick on Saturday to help the Raiders improve to 24-11-0-3 and stretch their lead atop the East Division standings to 12 points.
McVeigh assisted on all three of Bardaro‚Äôs goals while Conroy collected a pair of helpers. All total, the line recorded 17 points with Bardaro leading the way with four goals and three assists. McVeigh finished with a goal and four assists and Conroy also had 1-4-5 totals.
Dalton Thrower, who had made a costly giveaway late in Friday‚Äôs game that resulted in Bardaro‚Äôs winning tally, opened the scoring for Saskatoon on Saturday, but the rest of the opening 20 minutes belonged to the Raiders.
Bardaro tied the game less than two minutes after Thrower‚Äôs marker and in the next 7:38 Prince Albert had built a 4-1 lead with Bardaro completing his hat-trick and Chance Braid adding his seventh of the season.
Matej Stransky got one back for Saskatoon early in the second period, but after that Raider netminder Luke Siemens closed the door, finishing the game with 40 saves. Prince Albert directed 23 shots at Patrick Johnson, who was making his first Western Hockey League start. Johnson normally tends net for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League‚Äôs Melfort Mustangs, but is with the Blades while Andrey Makarov is with the Russian national team at the world junior event.
RAIDER NOTES: The Raiders were also without Reid Gardiner and Tim Vanstone who are in Quebec playing for Team West at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Team West, which also has Prince Albert native Miles Warkentine on the roster, lost their opening game 4-0 to Sweden on Sunday‚Ä¶Healthy scratches for Prince Albert were Riley Guenther and 15-year-old Brendan Guhle while Luke Mahura and Spencer Meyer, two players who were with the club earlier in the year, were dressed to complete the line-up. Guhle, Mahura, Meyer and 15-year-old netminder Nick McBride will be with the club all of this week working with the team‚Ä¶ The Raiders have a busy week as they host the Medicine Hat Tigers on Wednesday; head back to Saskatoon on Friday and then host the rejuvenated Regina Pats on Sunday‚Ä¶Wednesday‚Äôs game against the Tigers will be another Las Vegas Night with all fans over the age of 21 years eligible to enter a draw for a trip for two to Las Vegas. The prize includes return airfare from Saskatoon and two nights of accommodation‚Ä¶Mike Winther, who had Prince Albert‚Äôs only other hat-trick this year before Bardaro‚Äôs performance on Saturday, collected an assist on Braid‚Äôs goal and now has 99 points for his career‚Ä¶Bardaro‚Äôs weekend spree has moved him into second place on the team‚Äôs scoring list. The 20-year-old Bardaro now has 14 goals and 22 assists to trail McNeill by three points. Conroy also made a move as he is now third in team scoring, just one point back of Bardaro. Conroy leads the team in goals with 15‚Ä¶The Raiders are now 12 points ahead of the Blades and Swift Current Broncos for the East Division lead and trail the Edmonton Oil Kings by two points for the overall lead in the Eastern Conference.