Swift Current Broncos goaltender Eetu Laurikainen watches as Prince Albert Raiders forward Dakota Conroy attempts to pounce on a rebound during second period action at the Art Hauser Centre on Jan. 19. Laurikainen is a dominant 4-1-1 against the Raiders this season with a goals against average of 1.80.
It was a near perfect script for a hockey game.
Two teams close in the standings, tied 1-1 early in the third period and a pair of highly touted captains decide to go at it.
That was the scene on Friday at Western Financial Place where Prince Albert Raiders captain Josh Morrissey went toe-to-toe with Kootenay Ice counterpart Sam Reinhart.
“I don’t think you can ask for more than that in a hockey game in the third period,” Morrissey said of the game leading up to the unlikely tilt between former World Junior Hockey Championship teammates. “We knew what was at stake. It’s two captains trying to lead their teams. Every time we play against each other we are battling, competing, it gets physical and heated.”
It’s unfortunate however, that officials decided to tack on a questionable unsportsmanlike conduct call onto Morrissey’s fighting major, completely swinging the game’s momentum, he said.
“I don’t really see anything that warranted that,” Morrissey said of the call which on the ensuing power play, Ice centre Luke Philp tallied the game-winning goal. “The ref obviously saw something he thought warranted the call, it’s just too bad it had to be the game-winner in such a spirited, hardworking game for both teams.”
Despite exchanging blows, nothing has changed in the relationship between Morrissey and the top 2014 NHL Draft prospect.
“It’s funny, Reinhart and I are very good friends,” Morrissey explained, adding the pair have played together in one way or another throughout their lives. “At the end of the day we’re still friends. We texted afterwards and laughed about it. It was the heat of the moment.”
The Raiders 4-1 loss to the Ice on Friday was their third straight as they now sit eight points out of playoff position with a record of 23-25-3 and 21 games remaining.
Noting that they’re latest string of defeats were all tight games, Morrissey offered some explanations as the team, and its fans, struggle for answers.
“I don’t think it’s from a lack of effort,” Morrissey said of the Raiders 2-7-1 skid in their last 10 games. “At times we look to other guys in the room or expect other guys to get it done when it could be someone on the third or fourth line. We need contributions from everyone right now if we want to turn this around.”
From his perspective between the pipes, Raiders starting goalie Cole Cheveldave gave some answers of his own.
“We’re getting our chances, we just haven’t had very good puck luck in the last streak of games,” said Cheveldave who posts a 18-18-4 record this season. “We are playing pretty good hockey, we are just having lulls at certain times and they (opponents) are coming up with good scoring chances. We need to eliminate those lulls.”
Opposing goaltending has also been a major factor. The Raiders have been shutout twice by both the Swift Current Broncos and Red Deer Rebels in their last 10 games, running into stellar goaltending yet again on Wedneday when Lethbridge Hurricanes keeper Jonny Hogue stopped 41 shots as he and the ‘Canes defeated the Raiders 3-2.
“Guys (goalies) are playing good against us,” Cheveldave said. “We are starting to get frustrated and as a goalie, looking at it, you are just wondering because in practice guys are ripping the puck but in games, they aren’t getting the quality of shots.”
The masked man will continue to weigh heavily on the Raiders minds as they prepare to take on the Broncos on Tuesday at the Art Hauser Centre. Broncos import backstop Eetu Laurikainen, posts a record of 4-0-1 this season against the Raiders, with a 1.80 goals against average.
Laurikainen has been in net for all four Broncos victories over the Raiders this season, leading the season series 4-1-1.
With their backs against the wall chasing the Rebels for the eighth and final playoff spot, Morrissey said every man on the roster has to step up if they are to right the ship.
“At this point in the year, there aren’t any rookies anymore,” Morrissey said. “Guys wearing the letters have stepped up, we just need more. It’s not that guys haven’t been stepping up or doing things, but as we get a little bit more form each guy, that’ll help us get over the hump.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. when the Raiders take on the Broncos on Tuesday at the Art Hauser Centre.