After three games the St. Albert Raiders didn’t expect to be on the verge of elimination in the midget AAA playoffs against the Leduc Oil Kings.
But that’s where the north division co-leaders stand after Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss at Akinsdale Arena.
Neither team managed to score with the man advantage. St. Albert had seven cracks at the power play while Leduc had nine.
That last statistic was the central point of frustration for head coach Sandro Pisani after an elongated time spent in the coach’s room and talking to the players.
“Our penalty kill did a really good job today. Special teams will typically win and lose you a series and the challenge now is for our power play to be better,” Pisani said.
The Raiders held the Oil Kings to 18 shots on Liam Liston while firing 26 at Jordon Cooke.
“The message to the players is to control the play and find ways to get pucks to the net,” Pisani said. “[Leduc is] playing it tight to the vest. They’re clogging the net. They’re waiting for breaks and for us to make mistakes or pounce on a loose puck and they’ll take their chances in that situation.”
After opening up a two-goal margin by 13:47 of the first period, the Raiders had opportunities to bury the game.
“Everybody was going but once they got their first goal we got negative and stopped believing and that’s when it collapsed. We had a good enough game to win,” said defender Matt Benning. “They want to feed off turnovers in their zone and that’s their game. It’s frustrating. We have to move more and open up seams so we can find guys.”
Benning, 15, opened up the scoring 3:49 into the game with a shot to the far side from the left circle, ringing it off the inside of the post and past Cooke.
Dustin Bearisto had an odd goal later in the frame as Leduc defenders got crossed up and the puck bounced in front. Bearisto reached out to poke the puck and it found its way into the back of the net.
Troy Bourke nearly opened up a three-goal lead five minutes into the second, picking the glove corner but Cooke snapped out the leather.
“It’s not a matter of what Leduc’s doing so much as us not getting to the net at times and they’re getting timely goaltending. [Cooke] made some saves when we had opportunities to make it 3-0,” Pisani said.
Liston would later come up with a big save of his own as Connor Patchett fed the puck out in front from the wall to James Dobni, deking backhand but the Raiders’ goalie brought up the shoulder just in time.
Just over a minute into the third, Chance Abbott let go a wrist shot from the right side that managed to squeak between Liston’s glove arm and his chest.
Halfway through the period, Alex Dartnall fed it to the crease for Patchett, who chipped the puck over Liston’s glove to tie the game.
In overtime, Keaton White fired a bomb from the point that was tipped and bounced three times before finding the stick of Branden Galavan who lifted the puck home to give Leduc a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five north semifinal.
“It was a tough game. Our power play wasn’t really on. We got bad penalties at times and bad bounces. In the third period we gave up two mistakes that cost us but I liked the battle I saw in some of the guys, and we’re going to bounce back and win game four,” said forward Brendan McCalpin.
The series returns to Leduc tonight for what is now a must-win situation for the Raiders. Game time is 7:15 p.m. at Sobey’s Arena.
McCalpin said the belief in the dressing room is there that St. Albert can pull it out and win two straight to advance.
“We know we can do it. We’re coming out firing,” said McCalpin, 17.
If needed, game five goes Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Akinsdale.