The Prince Albert Raiders have looked to the service of 17-year-old rookie keeper Nick McBride to carry the load between the pipes recently. McBride started in net four straight games and has allowed no more than two goals in those starts. Herald photo by Perry Bergson
As they head down the stretch, the Prince Albert Raiders have been riding a roller coaster of streaks all season long.
Starting off the 2013-2014 campaign with five consecutive wins, the Raiders have been on eight winning and eight losing steaks this season including a nasty seven-game skid in December that had them on the outside looking in on the post-season.
As the Raiders head into their final four games, they are at it again, riding a four-game win streak that has thrust them back into playoff position.
Sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference, the Raiders are locked in a three-way tie in points with the Red Deer Rebels and Brandon Wheat Kings.
The good news for the Raiders is that their schedule appears comparatively easier to that of the Rebels and Wheat Kings, who both finish their seasons with tilts against some of the league’s top clubs.
The Raiders cap the season with a pair of tilts with the playoff-eliminated Saskatoon Blades and one each against the Moose Jaw Warriors and Regina Pats.
As the Raiders hold a game in hand, the Rebels finish off their season against the Kootenay Ice and a pair of tilts with the No. 1 in the conference Edmonton Oil Kings.
The Wheat Kings appeared to have a playoff spot all but locked up, but a four-game losing skid has them on the outside looking in. They’ll finish their season with a pair of tilts against the Pats and one against the Blades.
One thing is for sure, there is bound to be some excitement in deciding who gets in and who’s out as the possibility of a one-game playoff for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed grows likelier as the trio of clubs jockey for position.
The Raiders stretch run begins on Tuesday as they take on the Warriors at Mosaic Place.
Possible playoff foes
Should the Raiders enter the 2014 WHL playoffs as an eighth seed, they are going to face either the Oil Kings or Calgary Hitmen in the opening round.
The Oil Kings and Hitmen are in a dead heat for the conference’s No. 1 spot, both tied with 97 points.
If the Raiders finish off their season strong and pull into the seventh seed, they are likely to face the Regina Pats, who lead the East Division with 82 points, three more than the Swift Current Broncos.
Headlines going down the stretch
Raiders future between the pipes looks bright
With a shaky 23-23-3 season for Raiders overage starting goalie Cole Cheveldave nearly behind him, Raiders coach Cory Clouston has looked to 17-year-old rookie Nick McBride to carry the load.
McBride earned a spot on the roster in his first opportunity as a 16-year-old.
McBride, who turned 17 on Jan. 11, is the youngest Raiders goaltender to have a full-time spot since Aaron Sorochan in 2001.
With four straight starts, all victories, under his belt McBride has proven his ability to handle the pressures of the starter role.
In his four consecutive starts, McBride has surrendered just two goals in each game, improving his goals-against-average to 2.85.
Explosive two months for German import
Over the past few weeks, NHL scouts and executives including Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish have flocked to the Art Hauser Centre.
While taking a look at the league’s vast display of talent, there is no doubt they had their eyes focused on Cologne, Germany native, centre Leon Draisaitl.
As the 6-1, 209 pound power forward heads towards the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he has demonstrated through his immense skill and play-making abilities why he is projected to be selected in the top-five in Philadelphia.
Sitting at 97 points, Draisaitl is set to become the first Raider since Steve Kelly in 1996 to break 100 points.
Draisaitl’s role as the team’s leader in offensive production has come to a head in the last two months. Since Feb. 4, Draisaitl has scored an explosive 37 points including 12 multi-point games in that span.
On Monday, the league named Draisaitl the Denny’s WHL Player of the Week, marking the second time this season he has received the honour. He is the only Raider to crack the list.
Career year for Winnipeg Jets prospect Morrissey
Raiders blueliner Josh Morrissey has had his most productive season to date.
With 26 goals and 42 assists, Morrissey sits second overall in league scoring by a defenceman as he anchors the Raiders power play unit with 11 extra-man markers.
Although not even close to Saskatoon Blades defenceman Lawrence Sacharuk’s record of 50 goals by a defenceman in 1972, Morrissey still etched himself into the Raiders history book.
With his 23rd goal of the season on Feb. 25 against the Seattle Thunderbirds, Morrissey eclipsed Emanuel Viveiros’ franchise record of 22 goals by a Raiders defenceman in a single WHL season.
A call to the NHL next season remains a possibility, but he may be back to man the Raiders blueline as he hones his skills in one last WHL season.
Trade deadline moves pay off
The pair of forwards acquired prior to the Jan. 10 WHL trade deadline in wingers Collin Valcourt and Calder Brooks have paid dividends.
Since he was acquired from the Saskatoon Blades, Valcourt has found himself right at home on the Raiders top line, meshing well with Draisaitl.
In 31 games with the Raiders this season, the overage Valcourt has amassed 23 points as he looks to finish off his most productive season to date, sitting at a total of 61 points between the two clubs.
Brooks, a two-way forward, is also looking at his best season yet in his third year in the league with 29 points with the Raiders and Calgary Hitmen.
Gardiner regains scoring touch after drought
The weeks leading up to a March 1 tilt with the Kootenay Ice at the Art Hauser Centre were, to say the least, frustrating for Raiders centre Reid Gardiner.
In that game, Gardiner netted his first goal since Jan. 18, breaking a 20-game goalless drought for the 18-year-old Humboldt native.
Scoring 34 points up until Dec. 31, Gardiner’s offensive production began fall off in the following two months, as he scored just five points in January and February.
Gardiner’s offensive production to begin the season did not go unnoticed as the NHL released its 2014 draft prospect midterm rankings with Gardiner ranked 40th among North American skaters.
Though it is unknown how the dry spell will hurt that ranking, Gardiner has bounced back, returning to his point-per-game prowess seen earlier this season as the Raiders come down the stretch.
Riding a four-game point streak, Gardiner is heating up at just the right time as he looks to return to form as the club’s bonafide No. 2 centre heading into the playoffs.
After Jake Kryski was dealt to the Kamloops Blazers in a deal that sent Cheveldave to the Raiders, defenceman Cody Paivarinta remains the highest player selected by the club in last year’s Bantam Draft.
With the Major-Midget Fraser Valley Thunderbirds, Paivarinta has tallied two goals and 11 assists in 34 games this season.
RAIDERS SEASON NOTES: In his rookie season, Raiders defenceman Brendan Guhle is the only player on the team to not score a goal … On Monday, the Raiders possessed the league’s second most effective power play unit, working at a 25.2 per cent efficiency … The Raiders have gotten 162 points out of their active defenceman this season as Sawyer Lange trails the leader Morrissey with 49 points … Draisaitl’s point streak between Nov. 23 and Jan. 18, is the 12th longest in the league so far this season. He amassed 9 goals and 16 assists in that span … The Raiders are the second-least penalized team in the league with 801 penalty minutes. Former Raider Grant McNeill spent more time in the box in his four seasons with the Raiders, holding the franchise record of 929.