It wasn’t easy but the St. Albert Raiders battled with their backs against the wall to a 5-2 road win Wednesday over the Leduc Oil Kings in the midget AAA playoffs.
Game four in the best-of-five series was closer than the score showed, however: two of those goals were empty net tallies.
It was a tight contest all the way into the third period. With about 13 minutes to go in regulation, Leduc was up 2-1. Largely by neutralizing the Oil Kings with hard physical play and a speed game, the Raiders rallied to force a fifth and deciding game Friday at Akinsdale Arena. The score was unavailable at press time.
“We played well. We did a better job than we did in games two and three [4-3 and 3-2 overtime losses] getting pucks and bodies to the net,” said assistant coach Geoff Giacobbo. “I don’t think there’s any huge secret. We have to be very diligent about matching their level of grittiness in their end of the rink. That means we have to sacrifice to get pucks through and shoot more.”
Leduc’s second goal came shortly after a Raiders’ power play. St. Albert was stripped of the puck at the offensive point, leading to a Leduc transition and, after a bit of pressure, the go-ahead goal on a rebound.
“They’re a team that’s content about playing their own zone and waiting for us to make a mistake,” Giacobbo said. “They have a good goalie and they play tight to the vest waiting for the mistakes. They create lots of chances from it.”
Halfway through the third, Jayden Hart evened the score for the Raiders, getting the Leduc netminder moving the opposite way and firing high blocker side.
Kevin Lacroix set up the game winner, throwing the puck into the slot for Garth Wallin.
“We did a way better job of getting pucks out in front from behind the net. The last two games we were content to cycle the puck rather than get it to the net,” Giacobbo said.
Brad Miller was expected to get the start in the deciding game in the north division semifinal with Liam Liston nursing a lower body injury.
“If Miller plays the way he can, he’s a top-level goalie,” Giacobbo said. “Our big concern is taking care of the other end of the rink and capitalizing on our chances.”
Giacobbo stressed the Raiders must maintain their intensity if they wanted to advance further into the playoffs.
“We’ve done a good job of being physical the first four games. If we can get a good physical start [Friday] night, that will bode well for us. I think they’re tired and we’ve worn them down with our physical play and our speed. We have to continue to go down that road and play them hard.”
A victory would lift the Raiders into the best-of-five north final against the Lloydminster Bobcats. They edged St. Albert in the season series 1-0-1. Both teams finished tied for top spot in the north and first overall in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League with identical 23-6-6 records.