The U18 AAA St. Albert Raiders may not have their final roster set, but that doesn’t mean they are sitting around.
The team has been busy playing in their first full week of the pre-season, getting into four games last week against their Alberta Elite Hockey League rivals. They have rolled to a respectable record, standing at 3-1-0 and riding a hot streak of three straight wins.
Preseason opened Sept. 14 for the Raiders as they took on the Edmonton Canadians. Things didn’t go exactly as planned. The Canadians took an early 2-0 lead in the first period, with goals from Junshi Hideshima and Brady Kulak. They extended that to a 5-0 lead in the second period to leave the Raiders in a dire position heading into the final period.
They would defy the shutout, getting two goals from Bradely Gallo and Evan Zazulak, but it wouldn’t be enough as they dropped their opener 5-2 to the Canadians.
They didn't have much time to wallow in the defeat as they were back in action against the South Side Athletic Club on Thursday, Sept. 16. Once again things didn’t go their way in the first period. South Side jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period and neither team could find the board in the second.
The Raiders were just 20 minutes away from dropping to a pre-season record of 0-2 before they rattled off five goals in the third period to shock South Side and win 5-3. Aiden Taylor led the way for the Raiders as he notched two goals and an assist for three points.
They entered the weekend with a pair of back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday. The first game saw them go to war with the Leduc Oil Kings. The Raiders found a way to buck the trend of bad first periods and got the opening goal from Ty Hodge. The teams played to a 2-2 tie through the first 40 minutes, then it was another third-period surge for the Raiders.
Taylor had his second consecutive two-goal third period as the Raiders pulled away with a 6-2 victory to give them a winning record. Next up was a date with the Maple Leaf Athletic Club on Sunday.
The Raiders jumped out to an early lead against the Maple Leaf club, getting two first-period markers from Connor Dale and Gaege Johnson. The Maple Leaf club stormed back in the second with three goals to take a 3-2 lead, but Evan Sunder would get one back for the Raiders to make it 3-3 going into the final period.
Then it was rinse and repeat for the Raiders, as Taylor channeled some late-game heroics for the third straight game and netted the game-winner as the Raiders rolled to a 5-3 victory.
Head coach Jack Redlick said he has used this time to see how his players are developing into the team’s system.
“Our pre-season is designed with purpose and is progressive in nature, so we start very simple and build on it every game by introducing new concepts, and as that progression happens, we get to see from our players who is able to implement those concepts and ideas,” said Redlick. “We’re building toward the way our team plays hockey, so we are seeing who is able to adapt and who is struggling.
“We’ve had some players who have adapted really well, some who have struggled, and some who needed some feedback and have picked it up. It’s been good, we don't get too caught up in the scores, this time of year is about evaluating players and trying to introduce them to the way our team plays.”
The team is still expected to cut down the roster ahead of the season. They made cuts after Sunday’s game, and it is expected more will come this week.
Two players who hope to be spared are veterans Taylor and Hodge. Taylor found his way onto the score sheet in the third period on three separate occasions.
“They have been close games and we’ve just been trying to stick to our team motto and stay resilient,” said Taylor. “They’ve been close games and so far, we’ve just clamped down and finished it up in the third [period].
“I think we’re a pretty good team and I’m really excited for the season.”
There are only four returning players on the roster. Hodge said the new guys have been fantastic so far.
“[The new guys] are fitting in well ... I think it’s a real welcoming dressing room. When you come in it feels like you’ve been playing with these guys forever,” said Hodge.
The Raiders have a series this Saturday and Sunday against the Edmonton Canadians.