With the Western Hockey League approaching the two-thirds pole, every second of every game becomes even more important.
Just ask the Prince Albert Raiders.
After playing some of their best hockey of the year through 40 minutes of a game against the Red Deer Rebels on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre, the Raiders appeared to be well in control of recording their 26th win of the season.
Prince Albert was up 3-1 on the scoreboard and 30-15 on the shot clock. Even when Red Deer pulled to within one just past the mid-way point of the final frame, the Raiders weren‚Äôt wavering.
That was until the final seconds were ticking off. With goaltender Patrik Bartosak on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, the Rebels swarmed the Prince Albert goal and with less than a second left on the clock, Haydn Fleury banged home the equalizer.
Video replay showed that the puck crossed the goal line behind Raider netminder Luke Siemens with 0.9 seconds to play keeping the 2,899 fans in their seats for overtime.
‚ÄúThe message this week was to win two out of three,‚ÄĚ commented Raiders‚Äô head coach Steve Young after the game. ‚ÄúWe had to keep going. We had no choice. We were here to get two points.‚ÄĚ
It took less than two minutes to accomplish that as Josh Morrissey finished off a nice three-way passing play with Anthony Bardaro and Sawyer Lange by firing a bullet off the post past Bartosak.
The goal was Morrissey‚Äôs second of the game and fourth in his last three outings as the 17-year-old prepares to participate in the annual Prospects Game this week in Halifax, NS.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a guy that deserves to go to the Prospects,‚ÄĚ said Young. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs been working so hard as this is his draft year.‚ÄĚ
Prince Albert, which was coming off a 3-1 setback in Swift Current on Friday after crushing the Regina Pats 9-4 on Wednesday, totally dominated the opening period of Saturday‚Äôs game with Morrissey‚Äôs first of the contest staking the Raiders to a 1-0 lead.
That was until Brooks Maxwell pulled the Rebels even in the final minute on just Red Deer‚Äôs fifth shot of the game.
Reid Gardiner and Mark McNeill, who missed Friday‚Äôs game against the Broncos due to the flu, got Prince Albert back in front with second-period tallies, but Dominik Volek gave Red Deer new life with his fifth goal in 10 games since joining the Rebels after the Christmas break to set the stage for the dramatic finish.
Volek had played with the Regina Pats last year, but returned to Europe at the end of the season saying he was unhappy with how he was treated in Regina. Red Deer coach and general manager Brent Sutter then swung a deal for the disgruntled forward in December and Volek left the junior team he was playing with in Sweden to return to the WHL.
Excuses are seldom used, but it was obvious that the flu bug that has hit the Raiders hard played a factor in how the game ended.
‚ÄúWe had good jump early, but it did drop off a bit,‚ÄĚ said Young, who was obviously fighting the sickness himself.
RAIDER NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders were Joey Santucci, Riley Guenther and Austin Daae. All were healthy scratches‚Ä¶Red Deer was without defenseman Matthew Dumba, who is in Minnesota attending his first NHL training camp with the Wild. The first-round selection in 2012 is expected to return to Red Deer at the end of the week‚Ä¶In the line-up for the Rebels was a familiar face for Prince Albert Minto fans as Vukie Mpofu was called up for the weekend from the Saskatoon Contacts‚Ä¶The win leaves Prince Albert eight points up on the Swift Current Broncos and 12 ahead of the Saskatoon Blades for first place in the East Division standings‚Ä¶The Raiders will play the red-hot Kootenay Ice on Wednesday in their final home game of January. The Ice had won seven straight prior to falling 4-2 to the Spokane Chiefs on Saturday. Following Wednesday‚Äôs game, the Raiders will head to Brandon on Friday and then work their way out west where they will start a gruelling five-game-in-five-nights trek through the B.C. Division beginning on Jan. 23 in Prince George‚Ä¶Wednesday game against Kootenay will be another Las Vegas Night with one lucky fan winning a trip for two to Las Vegas. The prize includes return airfare from Saskatoon and two nights of accommodations. Entry boxes will be set up in the Johnny Bower Lobby and entrants must be 21 years of age or older.