When the Prince Albert Raiders headed west for their bi-annual tour of the Western Hockey League’s British Columbia Division, they were a confident, but not cocky, bunch.
What a difference 10 days makes.
The Raiders returned from their trip on Thursday somewhat deflated after winning just two of the five games and they were one-tenth of a second away from that being a 1-4 mark.
“I’m disappointed in some areas,” acknowledged Raiders’ head coach Steve Young on Friday. “We’re not where we have been.”
“The season is winding down and everyone is playing for their lives,” added Young. “You always have to give credit to the opposition, but we can’t just test the waters, we have to jump in with both feet.”
The Raiders were certainly guilty of slow starts on the trip as they were outshot 79-31 and outscored 11-3 in the opening periods of the five games. Once the team rolled up their sleeves and got down to work, it was too late in most cases.
“We can’t wait to see how the other team is going to play,” said Young. “We have to believe in who we are and make things happen early.”
The Raiders have little time to unwind from the lengthy road trip as they get back to work tonight when they host the Calgary Hitmen for the first time this year at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
“We’re back from a long trip and we can’t be excuse driven; we have to be solution driven,” said Young.
The Raiders will have to come up with some short-term solutions to the injury troubles the club incurred while out west.
Import winger Jonas Knutsen was injured in the Kamloops game and in the dramatic 6-5 victory over the Victoria Royals on Tuesday where captain Mark McNeill scored with one-tenth of a second left on the clock to force overtime (Leon Draisaitl scored the winner in a shootout), defensemen Harrison Ruopp (lower body) and Sawyer Lange (upper body) were both sidelined and neither played in the disappointing 5-1 setback to the last-place Vancouver Giants on Wednesday.
Tonight’s game will be just the second meeting with the Hitmen this year as Prince Albert skated to a 5-4 shootout victory in Calgary on Oct. 5. The Raiders will be back in Calgary on Feb. 22 with the Hitmen making one more appearance in Prince Albert on Mar. 6.
RAIDER NOTES: Despite the struggles out west, the Raiders are still in first place in the East Division standings, but the lead is shrinking. The Swift Current Broncos are just seven points back while the Saskatoon Blades are only nine, but hold a pair of games in hand…Calgary, which is the most penalized team in the Eastern Conference, was 33-14-1-3 entering Friday’s game in Saskatoon. The Hitmen are seven points back of the conference-leading Edmonton Oil Kings…McNeill, who scored a goal in each of the last three games of the trip, now has 20 on the season to reach that milestone for the third straight year…Ruopp’s next game will be the 200th of his WHL career, all with the Raiders. The veteran blueliner has three goals and 27 assists to go along with 363 penalty minutes. It is unclear when he or Knutsen and Lange will be ready to return to the line-up…It will be Heart and Stroke Night at tonight’s game with the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation doing free blood pressure tests and having CPR demonstrations in the Johnny Bower Lobby…Following tonight’s game, the Raiders begin another busy stretch as they four games in five nights beginning on Tuesday when they host the defending league champion Edmonton Oil Kings for the final time. The Raiders are then in Saskatoon on Wednesday before returning home to host the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Friday. They complete the stretch with a crucial test in Swift Current on Saturday against the Broncos.