Raiders almost right ship, but Rockets deliver knockout blow for sixth straight loss

Dave Leaderhouse
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Kelowna Rocket forward Tyson Baillie is sent airborne by Raider forwards Chance Braid (22) and Jayden Hart (18) while Prince Albert netminder Cole Cheveldave keeps an eye on the puck during first-period Western Hockey League action on Sunday at the Art Hauser Centre.

When the ship is listing all that is needed sometimes is the right breeze to get things back upright.

For 40 minutes of Sunday’s Western Hockey League game it looked like the Prince Albert Raiders had finally gotten the keel all the way in the water as they held a 3-2 lead against the league-leading Kelowna Rockets.

The Raiders, who have yet to win a game in December, lost the air in their sail in the third period, however, as the Rockets scored three unanswered goals for a 5-3 victory, their 11th straight.

“Both teams had momentum and both teams made mistakes,” said Raiders’ head coach Cory Clouston. “We’ve had a lot of tough breaks. We had three games in four nights where half the team was throwing up. We’ve had injuries and lost some key players.”

“We have just have to keep working hard and try and get through this adversity,” added Clouston.

The Raiders, who were without forward Leon Draisaitl and defenceman Josh Morrissey as both are at their respective country’s training camps for the world junior hockey championship, along with Mike Winther who remains on the sidelines with an upper-body injury, got off to a quick start on Sunday.

Dakota Conroy got his 17th goal of the season just 50 seconds into the game and Chance Braid increased the lead to 2-0 five minutes later.

The Rockets, who rallied for wins in Brandon on Friday and again on Saturday in Regina, got one back from Riley Stadel before the first period was over and then got the game on even terms when Myles Bell tallied midway through the second frame.

Gage Quinney put Prince Albert back in front before the second intermission and it looked like the Raiders, who entered the game on a five-game losing streak, might put an end to Kelowna’s mastery on the road, which was at 11 straight games without a loss.

Not quite!

Nick Merkley, just over two minutes into the third period, and Tyson Baillie midway through the final frame, gave the Rockets their first lead of the game and Tyrell Goulbourne sealed the win with an empty netter.

“It’s not from a lack of effort and it’s not from a lack of execution,” says Clouston. “We just don’t have any confidence around the net right now.”

That was very evident when Tim Vanstone missed on a penalty shot in the first period and then in a very rare occurrence, Shane Danyluk was foiled on Prince Albert’s second penalty shot attempt in the second period.

RAIDER NOTES: Attendance was announced as a very generous 2,115…Cole Cheveldave stopped 39 shots in the Prince Albert goal while Jordon Cooke was tested 31 times in the Kelowna net…The loss lowered Prince Albert’s record to 17-15-2-0 and leaves them with a slim two-point lead on the Red Deer Rebels for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference…Also not dressed for Prince Albert on Sunday, in addition to Draisaitl, Morrissey and Winther was Brendan Guhle. Prince Albert Minto Lance Yaremchuk, who started the year with the Raiders before being reassigned to the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League squad, was called back up and will remain with the team through the Christmas portion of the schedule…Prince Albert has one more game on the slate before the holiday break and that is Tuesday when they will host the Moose Jaw Warriors. Following the break, the Raiders will lose three more players as goaltender Nick McBride, Guhle and Matteo Gennaro are all heading to Nova Scotia as part of Team Pacific at the World under-17 Hockey Challenge. It is unclear who the Raiders plan to bring in to fill the roster for the first four games after the holidays, but they will definitely need help as just 18 players will be available to them.

Organizations: Raiders, Prince Albert, Western Hockey League Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League Team Pacific

Geographic location: Kelowna, Brandon, Regina Nova Scotia

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