The Prince Albert Raiders had a plan entering the current Western Hockey League season.
Following the opening weekend of the regular season, that plan is looking pretty good.
“It’s still a long way to go, but it is nice to see the results early,” said Raiders head coach Steve Young following a 5-2 triumph over the Saskatoon Blades on Saturday at Saskatchewan Place. “What we went through last year, it is important to see positives early.”
What the Raiders went through last year was a last-place finish in the entire league. With just 21 wins a year ago, they didn’t see the win column until Oct. 1 and didn’t get to three points in the standings until a week later.
Saturday’s win in Saskatoon came on the heals of a 2-1 shootout loss on Friday in Prince Albert meaning they are more than two weeks ahead of last year’s “pace”. The main reason for the early success is better preparedness by the players, coaching staff and management and an absolute commitment by everyone never to see a repeat of what took place last year.
Logan McVeigh led the Raiders offensively in Saturday’s win scoring a pair of goals while Jonas Knutsen, Antoine Corbin and Sawyer Lange added one each. Defenseman Josh Morrissey chipped in with three assists and Anthony Bardaro added a pair of helpers.
One of the many stumbling blocks a year ago was the play of the special teams, but on Saturday the Raiders scored four times with the man advantage and Young was particularly pleased with that part of the game.
“We took proper steps in the pre-season and let everyone be involved,” said Young.
Goaltending, at times, was also a concern a year ago, but so far this season that has been a cornerstone to the success. Luke Siemens, who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Moose Jaw Warriors, stopped 40 shots in the opening-night loss and he turned aside another 28 in the win on Saturday.
The game wasn’t all good news for Prince Albert, however, as defenseman Zach Hodder left the contest midway through the second period with what Young described as an “upper body injury.”
The loss of Hodder, even if it is temporary, still leaves Prince Albert with eight defensemen, which Young says will have to be looked at this week as the club has six full days to prepare for its next game, Friday at home against Moose Jaw.
“We have to get down some in numbers,” admits Young. “It will be a big week evaluating, but obviously injuries will play a part in it.”
RAIDER NOTES: The Raiders will be a part of Hockey Day in P.A. on Tuesday. The event, which is being hosted by the Prince Albert Minor Hockey Association, will be held from 4-8 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre with members of the Raiders joining players from the Midget AAA Mintos, Junior B Ice Hawks and female A&W Bears. Fans can meet the players and take part in a barbeque along with other activities being held to help promote the game and kick-off the new season.