After a dismal showing in their last game, the Prince Albert Raiders exploded out of the gate quickly against the Saskatoon Blades on Friday. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the Blades closed the gate just as quickly.
Coming off a 5-2 setback at home on Wednesday to the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Raiders jumped into an early lead just 14 seconds into Friday‚Äôs match at Credit Union Centre when Anthony Bardaro notched his 16th goal of the season and sixth in the last four games.
After that the Raiders played catch-up for the remainder of the game with Saskatoon avenging a pair of losses to Prince Albert last weekend with a 6-3 triumph.
‚ÄúIt was definitely a better effort,‚ÄĚ said Raiders‚Äô head coach Steve Young after the game. ‚ÄúIt was a game where we had opportunities and could have made the game a lot closer.‚ÄĚ
Darren Dietz evened the score at 1-1 late in the first period and Lukas Sutter put the Blades ahead for good when he scored 57 seconds into the middle session after taking a breakaway pass, moments after leaving the penalty box.
Former Raider defenseman Shayne Gwinner put the Blades up 3-1 before the second period was over and then Josh Nicholls increased the advantage to 4-1 with a short-handed effort 13 minutes into the final frame.
For Nicholls, who was playing in his 300th Western Hockey League game with the Blades, it was his league-leading 28th goal of the year and the Saskatoon veteran would add one more later in the period after Jayden Hart had scored for Prince Albert to close the gap to 4-2.
The goal for Hart was his second in as many games since coming to the Raiders in a blockbuster New Year‚Äôs Day trade with Medicine Hat that also brought Dylan Busenius to Prince Albert in exchange for Logan McVeigh and Zach Hodder.
Riley Guenther brought Prince Albert back to within a pair moments after Nicholls‚Äôs second marker, but Adam Kambeitz, who was also playing in his 300th WHL game, put the finishing touches on the Blades victory with an empty-net goal.
The Raiders, who managed just 15 shots on goal in the loss to Medicine Hat on Wednesday, directed 39 blasts at Saskatoon netminder Patrick Johnson, a recent call-up from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League‚Äôs Melfort Mustangs. Saskatoon countered with 46 shots at Luke Siemens in the Prince Albert goal.
The biggest difference in the game, however, was the Raiders‚Äô power play, which managed just one goal in seven opportunities, including a full four minutes midway through the final period when Dietz was off for high sticking Raider forward Mike Winther.
Since the Christmas break the Raiders have scored just twice in 22 chances with the man advantage. Young says the lack of success on the power play is a concern, but it is something that can‚Äôt be fully analyzed until the club gets all of its players back from various international tournaments.
‚ÄúWe made some major adjustments in set-up and structure, but I think I can give a better answer to that when we get everybody back,‚ÄĚ said Young.
Mark McNeill and Leon Draisaitl are two major components of the Raiders‚Äô top power-play unit and both have been absent since before Christmas as they have been in Ufa, Russia, competing at the world junior hockey championship. Reid Gardiner and Tim Vanstone have also been away at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Quebec and all four should be back in Prince Albert early next week.
Before then, however, the Raiders have to regroup quickly as they host the Regina Pats tonight at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. The Pats have won their last three games including a 3-2 shootout victory on Friday over Medicine Hat.
Regina, despite having numerous players missing from the line-up this year due to major injuries, defeated Prince Albert in two of four meetings before Christmas. Since the holidays, the Pats have seen veterans Colton Jobke, Chandler Stephenson and Trent Ouellette return to action, which has obviously helped out the team.
RAIDER NOTES: The loss drops Prince Albert‚Äôs record to 24-13-0-3 and allows the Blades to move to within eight points of the East Division-leading Raiders‚Ä¶Luke Mahura was once again inserted in the line-up as the call-up from the Bonneyville Pontiacs has played in all four games since Christmas due to the roster shortage created by the players attending the international tournaments. Spencer Meyer, Brendan Guhle and Nick McBride have also been with the team since the holiday break, but all four will be returned to their regular teams when Prince Albert‚Äôs roster players return next week‚Ä¶Tonight‚Äôs game will be defenseman Sawyer Lange‚Äôs 99th in a Raider uniform and forward Chance Braid will be suiting up for the 98th time in a Prince Albert jersey. Lange will reach the century mark on Wednesday when the Raiders host the Pats again with Braid to get to the plateau on Friday when Prince Albert travels to Swift Current to take on the Broncos.