The St. Albert Raiders lost the battle for first place to the Lloydminster Bobcats because of a tiebreaker.
Last weekend the Raiders defeated the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Calgary Northstars to finish 23-6-6 in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League.
The Bobcats also finished 23-6-6, after winning their last game of the season against the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers to clinched first in the north in the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Raiders. The teams played to a 2-2 draw Dec. 19 at the Border City, but the Raiders lost a 5-4 decision Dec. 7 at Akinsdale Arena, which gave the Bobcats the edge in the tiebreaker.
Both clubs get a bye into the division semifinals. Following the first round, the teams will be re-seeded according to regular season standings and compete in a best-of-five series.
Assistant coach Geoff Giacobbo said the Raiders were not too worried about clinching first place in the league, but more focused on having a good road trip down south and heading into the playoffs with a positive mindset.
“We took the time we had together to do a couple team-building activities that reflected on where we've been to this point and where we want to go,” he said. “As a team we did a good job using the time positively. When you're playing well, you have a happy bus and we had two happy bus trips.”
Giacobbo wasn't sure how the players would react in the last two games before the playoffs given the team didn't have a whole lot to play for, having already secured at least second place, but he saw two good games from his club.
“We competed hard and executed things we worked on in practice as far as puck movement and systems go. It was a good test and we did well.”
In a 4-1 win over the Hurricanes (17-14-4), Giacobbo said the Raiders executed well on all sides of the puck with a solid effort from the goaltender out.
“We played good against Lethbridge. That's not an easy barn to play in. We answered the bell physically and we did a good job of controlling the puck,” he said. “Our power play and penalty kill were good. Brad Miller played a really strong game [in net]. We did a good job executing our systems.”
In the 7-2 win against the Northstars (9-21-5), a team that was only playing for pride, it was a game the Raiders easily could have taken for granted, especially playing in a small arena with not a lot of atmosphere.
“Playing in back-to-back games, our message to the team was that we have to find our own energy,” Giacobbo said. “We battled through the first two periods. We had lots of opportunities on the power play and we didn't get much done but in the third period we capitalized and we gave ourselves a shot to get first place.
“In the end, it doesn't define our season and we knew that going in. Now we start preparing for the playoffs.”
With a bye into the semis, it's practice time for the Raiders to make sure they are as prepared as they can be for the playoffs.
“The onus is on us as coaches that our practices are as game-like as possible,” Giacobbo said. “We'll take the extra time to do some things off the ice as well to get us prepared as we can. It will give us a chance as coaches to go out and scout whoever our opponent might be.”