It was an (Import)ant win for the Prince Albert Raiders.
Not only did the Raiders reclaim sole possession of first place in the Western Hockey League’s East Division standings with the 3-1 triumph over the Swift Current Broncos on Wednesday at the Art Hauser Centre, but they also got some much-needed offense from their two import players.
In fact, Leon Draisaitl and Jonas Knutsen accounted for all of the scoring as Draisaitl notched goals in the first and third period to sandwich Knutsen’s second period marker.
The Raiders also got a huge boost with the return of veteran defenseman Harrison Ruopp, who missed the last seven games with a lower-body injury. The 19-year-old Ruopp, who was playing in his 200th WHL game, wasted little time in making his presence felt as he lowered the boom on Swift Current’s Chance Lund just 10 seconds into the game.
“Harrison wanted to show he is back with us,” said a smiling Raiders’ head coach Steve Young. “He’s a competitor and he’s there to win.”
The Raiders, who had lost four of their last five games prior to Wednesday’s contest, got out of the gates quickly and with Ruopp setting the tone, Prince Albert dominated the first 10 minutes with strong forechecking and an 11-0 advantage on the shot clock.
“We’re looking for the energy we need and tonight we did that,” said Young.
It wasn’t until there were under two minutes to go in the first period, however, that Prince Albert could solve the netminding of Eetu Laurikainen and it took a spectacular play to do that.
After Draisaitl broke up a Swift Current rush at the Raiders’ blueline, the Cologne, Germany, native fed a pass to Dakota Conroy on the right wing. Conroy, who was playing on a line with Draisaitl for the first time this season, undressed a Bronco defender at the Swift Current blueline with a nifty toe drag and then fed a speeding Draisaitl a perfect pass in front of the net. Draisaitl made no mistake with the wide open cage staring at him.
Swift Current tied the game five minutes into the second period after Raider defenseman Evan Morden failed to clear the zone resulting in Colby Cave banging in a rebound, but just 23 seconds later Knutsen got the Raiders back on top when his low shot from high in the slot fooled Laurikainen.
Draisaitl completed the scoring four minutes into the final frame when his hard blast was in and out of the net so quickly video review was required to confirm it had indeed entered the goal.
Laurikainen finished the game with 26 saves while Luke Siemens was tested 26 times in the Raider goal.
RAIDER NOTES: With the win Prince Albert is now two points ahead of the Saskatoon Blades, but they have also played two more games than their arch-rivals…The win also continued a peculiar trend between the Raiders and Broncos as the home team has won all seven meetings this season. The two meet one more time, Mar. 5 in Swift Current…The Conroy-Draisaitl pairing wasn’t the only new twist in the line-up as Shane Danyluk moved up to a spot with Mark McNeill and Mike Winther. Young says that was by design so that McNeill could line up opposite of Bronco sniper Adam Lowry and Danyluk’s defensive strength could be utilized to help contain the Swift Current captain as well…Ruopp and Lund’s collision early in the game wasn’t the only time the two faced each other as late in the first period the pair engaged in a short fight with Ruopp ending up on top…Riley Guenther, Tim Vanstone and Joey Santucci were all out of the Raider line-up with Vanstone still recovering from a fight he had over a week ago while the other two were healthy scratches…Prior to the game the third segment of the Molson Cup three star awards were presented with McNeill finishing first followed by Siemens and defenseman Josh Morrissey…The Raiders will play the Moose Jaw Warriors on Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre before playing four on the road including their final swing through Alberta next week.