Prince Albert Raiders forward Calder Brooks tries to get out of the way of defenceman Mackenze Stewart’s shot -- the puck can be seen to Brooks’ left near the R on the sign on the boards -- as Calgary Hitmen goaltender Chris Driedger waits at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday evening. The shot went in, giving the Raiders a 4-2 lead on a night they won 5-2. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
The Prince Albert Raiders have beaten every team in their conference after a 5-2 triumph over the Calgary Hitmen on Friday at the Art Hauser Centre.
As the Raiders avoided a season series sweep at the hands of the Hitmen, centre Leon Draisaitl recorded a second-straight four-point night, netting the game-winning goal, an empty netter and a pair of assists to lift his team to their third victory in a row.
While the Raiders are neck and neck with the Red Deer Rebels for a playoff spot, for the third straight game, coach Cory Clouston instilled his faith in 17-year-old rookie backstop Nick McBride over overage starter Cole Cheveldave, a natural decision, he said.
"Nick's playing well," Clouston said of McBride who made 32 saves on Friday. "Cole (Cheveldave) was 0-4 against Moose Jaw, 0-3 against Calgary, when you combine those two factors it was a pretty easy decision."
The sparks were flying early when a minute and a half into the game, Raiders defenceman Mackenze Stewart dropped the gloves for the eighth time this season, going toe-to-toe with Hitmen right wing Joe Mahon.
Perhaps ignited by Stewart's tilt, the Raiders struck first exactly one minute later when defenceman Josh Morrissey ripped a point shot past a screened Hitmen backstop Chris Dreidger.
Clouston agreed that Stewart did a good job of generating energy, igniting the team behind him.
"He's a big guy," Clouston said of Stewart. "He's got to play physically and make sure he create momentum for us as well as playing well defensively, that's part of his role."
Adding another goal on a two-on-one, Raiders centre Leon Draisaitl fed Collin Valcourt who took one shot into Dreidger's chest and then banged the rebound into the net.
On the other end of the ice, McBride stood tall, stopping 13 shots in the first period to carry the Raiders 2-0 lead into the second frame.
The Hitmen put themselves on the board on a gaffe six minutes into the second period when McBride went to play the puck behind the net and lost it to Kenton Helgesen who fed right wing Jake Virtanen for an easy marker.
Virtanen netted his second of the night just 43 seconds later, sniping a wrister past McBride to tie things up at twos seven minutes into the second period.
Though surrendering a pair of questionable goals, Clouston said McBride was able to bounce back and maintain his composure.
"I'm sure if you asked Nick he would have liked to have both those goals back but he showed a lot of character," Clouston said of the rookie keeper. "He (McBride) called a timeout and came to the bench and we said 'Nick, it's a brand new game, we need you to be big for us' and I thought the guys did a great job of bending but not breaking."
The game's chippy attitude continued throughout the middle frame as Draisaitl was driven head first into the boards, resulting in a scrum in the corner and Valcourt engaging with Hitmen captain Jaynen Rissling.
Both teams struggled to break the stalemate throughout the period's second half until with 51 seconds to go, Draisaitl hammered a one-timer past Dreidger on a power play to carry a 3-2 lead into the third frame.
After pouring the shots on Dreidger to kick off the third period, the Raiders finally broke through with an insurance goal by Stewart who netted his fifth of the season on a point shot midway through the frame.
In a last ditch effort, Hitmen coach Mike Williamson gave Dreidger the yank for an extra-man and Draisaitl was able to score from the Raiders zone to put the game on ice.
The Raiders are right back at in on Saturday as they continue their hunt for a playoff berth against the Brandon Wheat Kings at the Art Hauser Centre.
RAIDER NOTES: Not dressed for the Raiders on Friday were Ryan Coghlan, Tim Vanstone and Darcy Zaharichuk ... Coghlan has not dressed for the Raiders since a Feb. 11 tilt against the Hitmen at the Scotiabank Saddledome ... Since being dealt to the Hitmen on Dec. 28 in exchange for left wing Calder Brooks and a second round draft pick, former Raider Mike Winther has not dressed against his former team this season. Winther has amassed eight points in 11 games with his new squad ... Raiders rookie backstop Nick McBride is the first 16-year-old keeper since Aaron Sorochan in 2001 to remain on the team's roster for an entire season ... Scoring his 33rd goal of the season on Friday, Draisaitl is red-hot, scoring 35 points since Feb. 4.