The St. Albert Raiders kept pace with the Lloydminster Bobcats for the division lead in the north standings last weekend with their fourth win in six games.
The convincing 6-2 victory over the KC Pats at Akinsdale Arena sets the stage for Sunday’s first-place showdown against the visiting Lloydminster Bobcats at 2:30 p.m. The Bobcats and Raiders hold identical 20-5-6 records as the top teams in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League. The contest will be crucial in determining the final standings as the first and second place teams in the north and south divisions get byes.
“We're neck and neck so we'll be making adjustments from the last time we saw them and hopefully those pay off,” said head coach Sandro Pisani, who declined to reveal what those adjustments will be after the teams battled to a 2-2 draw in the Border City prior to the Mac’s tournament.
Both teams are in action tonight. The Bobcats are in Leduc to play the third-place Oil Kings (16-9-6) and the Raiders face off against the fifth-place Southside Athletic Club (14-13-4) at 7:45 p.m. at Confederation Arena. The Raiders edged Southside 5-4 in their last meeting before Christmas.
“We can't look past Saturday,” Pisani said. “Southside came at us hard in our barn the last time. We need to be prepared for their speed and counterattack. They have good offence. They're a well-coached and just a good hockey team.”
The Raiders will not have suspended defenceman Nick Walters in the line-up tonight. Towards the end of the second period against the Pats, Walters and Jamie Johnson started throwing punches with gloves on. Walters took exception and dropped his mitts and tried to pull Johnson's helmet off but the KC forward kept both his discipline and his gloves on. Both players were ejected from the game and Walters was assessed a one-game suspension.
“It’s disappointing that we lose him,” Pisani said. “We have to learn that teams are going to try to take liberties. We need to skate away from those situations. It doesn't benefit us in any shape. We have a big weekend coming and we're going to have to make do without Nick [against Southside].”
The Raiders closed out the month of January with their third straight win, highlighted by three power play goals against the Pats, with two of them coming in the first period. After two periods the Raiders outshot the Pats 30-10 and held a 5-2 lead. Liam Liston earned the victory in net. His counterpart, Davis Jones, was shelled by the Raiders as Brendan McCalpin led the attack with two goals. Walters, Shane Brolly, Troy Bourke and Jayden Hart notched singles.
It had been 10 days since the Raiders last saw regular season action and Pisani was a bit worried how his club would answer the bell.
“We started pretty well and our power play was pretty efficient early. We were pushing passes tape to tape and our patterns were good,” he said. “They tried to press us a lot and it's difficult to press when you're hitting passes. We really wanted to get traffic at the net which I think we did well and it gave us opportunities to score.”
With the Pats (9-15-7) near the bottom of the standings, there was a slight concern heading into the game the Raiders would take them lightly but Pisani and assistant Geoff Giacobbo, former KC coaches, expected the Pats would be a handful.
“They're a tough team to play if you're in that one-goal game which they want to play. We responded well early and got ahead which got them off their footing, which in turn made them take more penalties,” Pisani said. “Our speed was a factor. The special teams were big too. We took them out of their element.”
League play wraps up next weekend with the Raiders on the road to play the Lethbridge Hurricanes (16-12-4) and the Calgary Northstars (6-19-5).