Saturday, 16 March 2019

Raiders please home crowd in rivalry battle with Blades

Noah Gregor (#18) scored twice for the Raiders on Saturday.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – The Prince Albert Raiders gave their frenzied home crowd exactly what they wanted.
    On Saturday, the Raiders closed their WHL regular season schedule with a 3-1 victory over their archrivals the Saskatoon Blades before a sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre. The Raiders, who had been well into their standing room sales for most of the season, announced that Saturday’s gathering was the team’s first sellout of the campaign.
    The crowd cheered the loudest they had all season as the Raiders built a 2-0 lead in the first period, a 3-0 advantage after 40 minutes before the Blades potted a late third period goal.
Raiders fans show they are ready for the post-season.
    “I think for us and for the fans that is a little taste of what is to come in playoffs,” said Raiders captain Brayden Pachal. “That was a playoff atmosphere and a playoff game for sure.
    “That was pretty amazing. You get the chills when you’re coming on to the ice, and they’re that loud. Every hit, every goal, every penalty, everything, it was crazy loud.
    “We’re looking forward to that. It is a hard building to play in, when it is that loud. We’re looking forward to that crowd and even more come playoffs.”
    While the Raiders had extra jump, the Blades played a high-energy game too. 
Dorrin Luding makes one of his 29 saves for the Blades.
    Blades captain Chase Wouters said his team always get pumped to play, when they visit P.A.
    “It was pretty intense and emotional game,” said Wouters, whose club also concluded its regular season schedule. “We knew coming into this building it wasn’t going to be easy.
    “They play us hard, and we play them hard. They got the better outcome tonight.
    “It is an intense building. Every game here, you kind of know what you are going to expect from the crowd, kind of the rivalry and things like that. It is an intense place to play, and it is fun.”
    The Raiders opened the scoring at the 8:05 mark of the first period, when overage centre Sean Montgomery sniped home his 29th goal of the season from the right side of the Saskatoon goal.
Sean Montgomery scored the Raiders first goal on Saturday.
    Just over two minutes later, the Raiders extended their edge to 2-0 working on the power play. Rookie right-winger Ozzy Wiesblatt had the puck at the left side of the Saskatoon goal, and he found overage centre Noah Gregor streaking down into the right slot with a backdoor pass.
    Gregor fired home his 42nd goal of the campaign to give the Raiders a two-goal edge.
    In the second period, the Raiders added a big backbreaking goal with 2:48 remaining in the frame. With the Blades work on the power play, the Raiders broke into the Saskatoon zone on a two-on-one break.
    Gregor roofed home his second of the game and 43rd tally of the season to give the Raiders a 3-0 edge.
    Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid believes his team got an extra step from the atmosphere created by the home crowd.
Raiders fans geared up and cheered out for their team on Saturday.
    “It was fun, and I think it was good for our guys to see the crowd,” said Habscheid. “You look at it, and it is only 3,200 or 3,300, but with the small building and them being right on top of you, it feels like 20,000.
    “It was a good atmosphere. You could tell our guys liked it. It helped give them another jump with everything that went on.”
    Despite being in a 3-0 hole, the Blades didn’t go away. With 3:56 remaining in the third period, Saskatoon offensive-defenceman Dawson Davidson found overage right-winger Max Gerlach in the left slot with a backdoor pass, and Gerlach fired home his 42nd goal of the campaign to cut the Raiders edge to 3-1.
Riley McKay (#39) turns up ice with the puck for the Blades.
    Saskatoon wasn’t able to get any closer.
    Ian Scott made 24 saves to pick up the win in goal for Prince Albert. The Raiders finished first overall in the WHL with a 54-10-2-2 record and were officially presented with the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for that accomplishment before Saturday’s game.
    Dorrin Luding turned away 29 shots to take the setback in goal for Saskatoon as the Blades saw an eight-game winning streak come to an end. The Blades finished fourth overall in the WHL with a 45-15-8 record.
    There were a lot of penalties on Saturday too. The Blades failed to score on six power-play chances, while the Raiders were 1-for-8 with the man advantage.
Ian Scott makes one of his 24 saves in goal for the Raiders on Saturday.
    Wouters said his team committed too many giveaways on Saturday.
    “It is an area that we knew would be hard in this rink, because they come at us pretty quick,” said Wouters. “Turnovers are definitely a big part of the game.
    “We have to clean up both blue-lines and our own breakouts. We have to be better in that area. We will watch some video this week and get back to work on the weekend.”
    Habscheid believes his players have the right mindset heading into the post-season.
Ryan Hughes breaks into the offensive zone for the Blades.
    “I like where they are at,” said Habscheid. “We needed these two games.
    “It is a good rivalry, good intensity and that is what playoffs are all about. I just appreciated the intensity on both sides. It was good for both teams, not just for us, but for them too.
    Both clubs will now embark on their respective post-season journeys.
    The Blades will face the Moose Jaw Warriors (40-20-6-2) in a best-of-seven first round series. Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
    “It is something we’ve been looking forward to ever since we clinched,” said Wouters. “Now that we found out we play Moose Jaw, we have to tighten up some things against them.
Brett Leason jets into the offensive zone for the Raiders.
    “We look forward to it as a group and as a community of Saskatoon. We will be playing for everyone.”
    The Raiders will take on the Red Deer Rebels (33-28-4-2) in a best-of-seven first round series. Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. The Rebels close their regular season schedule traveling to Cranbrook, B.C. on Sunday to take on the Kootenay Ice.
    Pachal admitted it was big accomplishment for his team to win the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy, but his side wants to capture bigger team awards in the post-season.
    “It is pretty special,” said Pachal. “Obviously, we’ve had a special year so far.
The Raiders salute their fans at the Art Hauser Centre.
    “That was the first banner in this rink for a while. Our mindset is that one isn’t good enough, so we’re looking forward to playoffs.”
    NOTES – Raiders forwards Dante Hannoun and Justin Nachbaur were scratched with undisclosed injuries, but Habscheid was hopeful both could be back for the start of playoffs. Cohner Saleski, who recently completed his second season of midget AAA eligibility with the Prince Albert Mintos, dressed as an associate player call up at centre.
    Blades defenceman Aidan De La Gordendiere was scratched due to an upper body injury, while utility player Randen Schmidt and associate player call up in defenceman Alex Ozar, who just completed his second season of midget AAA eligibility with the Mintos, were healthy scratches.

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