The Prince Albert Raiders are obviously a much different team when playing at home.
In their first game back from a disappointing five-game swing through the B.C. Division where they won two out of five games, the Raiders put in an inspired effort to shutdown the Calgary Hitmen 2-0 before a near-sellout crowd in Western Hockey League action on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre.
“It’s nice to be home,” said Raiders’ head coach Steve Young with a smile following the win before 2,871 fans. “The guys knew they had to come to work tonight. It was important to play hard in front of the fans.”
Although the Raiders have won an equal amount of games at home and on the road – 15 – they have struggled away from home lately winning just twice in their last seven games. The trip out west magnified the problem as they were outscored 11-3 in the first period of the five games in B.C. and outshot 79-31.
That trend looked like it was going to continue on Saturday as the Hitmen outshot Prince Albert 16-9 in the opening period, but Luke Siemens and Chris Driedger were perfect in the Raiders and Calgary nets, respectively.
The game remained scoreless until just past the halfway point of the game when Shane Danyluk took a nice breakout pass from defenseman Davis Vandane and beat Driedger low on the blocker side with a shot from the top of the left face-off circle. It was Danyluk’s second shorthanded goal in the last three games and Young said it was a nice reward for a hard-working player.
“He blocks a lot of shots and is in a lot of situations,” said Young. “It was good for him.”
Just over two minutes later, Calgary’s Josh Thrower and Prince Albert’s Tim Vanstone dropped their gloves and circled around centre ice for a few seconds before the Hitmen rookie defenseman landed a solid right to the Raider rookie forward’s chin and knocked him out cold. Vanstone, who had got a couple of shots in early in the tussle, was on the ice for several minutes before getting help from teammates to the dressing room.
The sight of their fallen teammate seemed to shake up the Raiders for a stretch, but Chance Braid put Prince Albert up 2-0 early in the third period and the rest was left up to Siemens, who stopped 40 shots for his fifth shutout of the season. The 20-year-old netminder is now one shutout shy of the team record of six in a season set by Rejean Beauchemin in 2003-04.
“I thought out entire D-corp. was solid tonight,” said Young. “We have to play hard to get everything we get.”
The Raider defence was especially strong considering regulars Harrison Ruopp (lower-body) and Sawyer Lange (upper-body) were out due to injuries forcing rookie Riley Guenther to see additional time and forward Austin Daae taking a semi-regular shift on the blueline, mostly alongside veteran Dylan Busenius.
Import winger Jonas Knutsen also sat out the game with an upper-body injury he suffered during the game in Kamloops last weekend and Young said it was doubtful that any of the injured, Vanstone included, would be ready when the Raiders take on the Edmonton Oil Kings on Tuesday at the Art Hauser Centre. With four players in sick bay, the Raiders will have just 19 players available for Tuesday’s game. It is unclear if anyone will be called up as an emergency replacement.
RAIDER NOTES: The win allowed the Raiders to maintain a seven-point lead on the Saskatoon Blades for first place in the East Division standings with the suddenly red-hot Memorial Cup hosts (winners of four straight), also having a game in hand. Prince Albert, which improved to 30-18-1-3 and is within one win of equalling the club’s highest win total in the last decade (they have won 31 games three times since posting 38 victories in 2003-04), have a critical stretch of games this week as they are in Saskatoon on Wednesday, home to the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Friday and in Swift Current on Saturday in addition to Tuesday’s match against the defending league-champion Oil Kings.