The Prince Albert Raiders gave the Saskatoon Blades a first-hand look at why they’re the talk of the Western Hockey League, outclassing the Blades in a 6-2 matinee win at Sasktel Centre Sunday.
Saskatoon (7-3-0-0) was able to match Prince Albert (10-1-0-0) for most of the game before the Raiders speed and deadly transition attack buried the Blades in the final period.
“We played a good 60 minutes. I thought as a group we were competitive, Blades captain Chase Wouters said following the game. “But in the long run we made a couple of breakdowns (and) I think that cost us the game,” Blades captain Chase Wouters said.
The win was the first for the Raiders at Sasktel Centre since 2014, a streak that lasted 15 games.
“It’s been since the ’80s hasn’t it since we won here? We were getting tired of hearing that,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid joked after the game.
The Raiders entered action with little rest, beating Red Deer the previous evening in Prince Albert before making it to Saskatoon for a clash of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
“Our guys are character and they could have easily made an excuse — we haven’t won here, it’s a quick turnaround, afternoon game —but (they’re) a determined group,” Habscheid added.
“You just open the gate and let them go.”
The Blades had a four-game winning streak snapped in the loss.
Saskatoon opened Sunday’s scoring with a powerplay goal by Kristian Roykas-Marthinsen in the first period, before Spencer Moe and Parker Kelly would make it a 2-1 lead for the Raiders at the first intermission.
A Dawson Davidson powerplay marker would even up the game once again, but Prince Albert slowly started to skate away with the game, scoring three goals in the second and third periods before an empty-netter iced the game late.
The Raiders were led by Brett Leason and Brayden Pachal, who both notched three points. Eric Florchuk added two assists for the Blades.
While much of the entertainment for the 3,533 people in attendance was directed at the game between two of the top WHL teams, aggression started to take control of the game in the waning minutes.
Blades head coach Mitch Love and Habscheid were screaming at one another on the benches as each coach sent out tougher players to deter any late fights.
Habscheid brushed off the heated interaction after the game.
“That’s just hockey, I think we were talking about winter plans, or Christmas break plans,” he said.
Love had a different perspective.
“I was a little confused if we were the home team or they were, in terms of the last change,” Love said. “All of a sudden, they were throwing a new player on the ice.”
“I think I was just trying to help out the officials in terms of who had last change or not.”
The verbal sparring match proved the Prince Albert-Saskatoon rivalry is alive and well, especially since both teams look to fight atop the standings this season.
Although Love is new to the rivalry, he’s happy to be a part of it now.
“It’s great, lots of emotion today from both benches,” Love said. “I’ve been part of a pretty intense rivalry in the U.S Division with Seattle (and Everett) over the years and this is right up there with it.”
Wouters laid it out more simply when asked about mental preparedness going up against the Blades’ longstanding rival.
“Well, we play them six more times, ” he said. “If playing them doesn’t get you ready to go, then I don’t know what will.”
The Raiders have handed Saskatoon two of their three losses this season. Saskatoon hopes to get back on track against the Calgary Hitmen Wednesday at Sasktel Centre.
Blades defenceman Jake Kustra isn’t expected to be in the lineup Wednesday. He was upended near his own blueline in the third period and collided feet-first into the boards. Fans winced as the scene replayed on the video board. His left leg seemed to be in an unnatural position as he laid and waited for trainers. He was unable to put any weight on the leg as he was helped to the dressing room.