Saskatoon Blades netminder Troy Trombley makes a blocker save as Blades defenceman Graeme Craig and Prince Albert Raiders forward Darcy Zaharichuk keep an eye on the puck during first period action at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert on Friday. Zaharichuk scored the winning goal later in the game in his team’s 5-2 win. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
The Prince Albert Raiders put an end to their seven-game losing streak, beating the Saskatoon Blades 5-2 on Friday at the Art Hauser Centre.
Shaking off the rust from a 10-day holiday break, Raiders goalie Cole Cheveldave stopped 27 of 29 shots as the Raiders cruised to the win, snapping the lengthy losing skid while extending the Blade's to 12 games.
Losing five players to both the World Junior Hockey Championship and World U-17 Challenge tournaments, the Raiders had some fresh faces on the bench, dressing six rookies and two call-ups from the Junior A and Midget-AAA ranks.
Raiders coach Cory Clouston said he thought his team played well despite the significant hit his roster has taken, speaking volumes to the team's depth.
"When you look at our seven guys out of the lineup, that's a lot of guys," Clouston said. "Given the quality of the players that we are missing, there are a lot of big important minutes that our guys had to make up for and I thought we did a really good job of that."
Raiders centre Reid Gardiner, who tallied two goals and two assists in Friday's victory, said the new faces on the bench of Luke Mahura and Ben Verrall, filled the roster well.
"They were good, they were positive on the bench and when they did get the chance to play they were excellent," Gardiner said of the pair of call-ups who's shifts were limited on Friday. "They had some good chances and blocked some shots and our team is really happy with the way they played."
The Raiders got the jump on the Blades in the first period, outshooting the bitter provincial rivals by a wide 16-6 margin.
Despite keeping the pressure on Blades backstop Troy Tremblay, the Raiders failed to capitalize on numerous Blades mistakes and turnovers in their own zone as both teams were held off the score sheet in the opening frame.
The Raiders kept a brisk pace, striking early in the second period when centre Shane Danyluk attempted a wrap around which rebounded to the front of the net allowing Gardiner to pop it in and give the Raiders a 1-0 lead two minutes into the frame.
While struggling to capitalize on the Blades critical errors in the first period, the Raiders made the most of their opponents mistakes in the second frame. After the Blades took a penalty for too many men on the ice, Gardiner tallied his second of the night on the ensuing power play, beating a screened Tremblay from the slot to put the Raiders ahead by two.
Just over a minute after Gardiner netted his 16th goal of the season, rookie right wing Darcy Zaharichuk tallied the Raiders third unanswered goal on a wrap around.
The Blades finally got on the board with exactly five minutes remaining in the second period when Cheveldave, having endured a flurry of traffic in his crease, was down and hopeless when the puck careened loose allowing defenceman Ayrton Nikkel to net a slap shot, putting the Blades within two.
Despite his struggles in the first half of December, Clouston said Cheveldave's performance on Friday is something the overage goaltender can build off of.
"When we needed him the most, he made a couple of key saves," Clouston said of Cheveldave. "We built a 3-0 lead and that was a good cushion for him and that gave him some confidence."
The Raiders kept their feet on the gas as they continued to put the pressure on the Blades in their own zone in the third period.
Seven minutes into the third frame, Danyluk tapped the puck through traffic and into the net to give the Raiders a convincing 4-1 lead midway through the period.
While they never ceased the offensive pressure, the Raiders shut down the Blades in the defensive zone, holding them to 10 shots in the third period.
With about 40 seconds to go, Blades coach Dave Struch gave Tremblay the yank for the extra attacker, allowing centre Jayden Hart to tally the empty-net goal to clinch the Raiders first victory of December.
Having finally snapped the losing skid, Clouston is eager to keep things going and salvage what began as a nasty month.
"We lost seven games in a row and I don't think I've ever had that in my whole coaching career of about 20 years," Clouston said. "I've never had a stretch like that but its behind us, all we can do now is try to become a better team."
The Raiders will meet the Blades again on Saturday in their second game of the home and home series at the Credit Union Centre.
RAIDER NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders on Friday were Mike Winther, Dylan Busenius, Josh Morrissey, Leon Draisaitl, Matteo Gennaro and Brendan Guhle … Winther is out with an upper body injury suffered early in December … Busenius was a healthy scratch ... With the WHL's Jan. 10 trade deadline looming, the Raiders have yet to make any transactions ... Morrissey and Draisaitl are in Sweden competing in the WJHC while Gennaro, Guhle and backstop Nick Mcbride are all representing Team Pacific in the World U-17 in Nova Scotia … The Raiders recalled three players in an effort to fill the roster on Friday. Forward Luke Mahura, goaltender Rylan Parenteau and defenceman Ben Verall were all recalled to replace the trio of Raiders competing in the U-17 tournament ... Mahura hails from the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Parenteau from the Weyburn Red Wings of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League while Verrall was recalled from the Midget-AAA Moose Jaw Generals