The U18 AAA St. Albert Nektar Raiders are off to a quick start, going undefeated through their first five games of the new Alberta Elite Hockey League season.
The team opened up the AEHL campaign with a two-game road trip on Oct. 9. They won their first game in Lloydminster, beating the Bobcats 5-3, and followed that up with a 2-2 tie in Fort Saskatchewan against the Rangers on Oct. 10.
With the first two road games out of the way, the team returned to their home ice at Jarome Iginla Arena Oct. 13 in their home opener and the team’s food bank game. Fans combined hockey with philanthropy by bringing perishable goods to donate.
They gave the crowd plenty to cheer for as they hosted the Maple Leaf Beverly Optimists. The Raiders came out blazing, getting a trio of first-period goals from Elijah Pool, Teo Pisani, and Evan Sundar to give the home team a commanding 3-0 lead.
The Optimists got a goal back in the third to cut the lead to 3-1, but a late marker by Tyden Redlick put things away for the Raiders, who went on to win 4-3.
Head coach Jack Redlick said he was happy with the team’s win, but was also ecstatic over the amount of support the team got from the community.
“In regard to the home opener, we were impressed with the turnout,” said Redlick. “It was our food bank game and we got quite the haul of food, so it was good support for the community.”
Next up was the true challenge of the week. With the jitters of the home opener now behind them, the Raiders faced a busy weekend. The team was on the ice for a morning skate on Saturday to prepare for a game that night, then had to quickly turn around to play an afternoon game on Sunday.
The Saturday night game saw the Raiders host the Southside BP Athletics at Jarome Iginla Arena.
Evan Zazulak got St. Albert on the board just over two minutes into the game, while Sundar gave them an insurance marker later in the first period to help the team get off to another hot start.
The Athletics made it a tight game with a goal of their own in the second, but once again it was Sundar who notched his second of the game to help the Raiders rattle off their third win of the season by a score of 3-1.
For the week's finale the Sherwood Park Ennis Kings were in town looking for their first win of the season. They got pretty close.
The Kings opened up the scoring in the first period and denied the Raiders a chance to get out to another quick start. It took the Raiders until the midway point of the second period to get their first goal, which was a floater that came off the stick of Xander Schulte to notch things up 1-1.
The Raiders wasted no time in the third period to take their first lead. Redlick and Zazulak both potted goals to give St. Albert a 3-1 lead. The Kings, however, wouldn’t go away. They came back with two goals of their own to tie things up 3-3 late in the game.
Luckily for the Raiders, Sundar came up with a clutch goal in the dying minutes, while Bradley Gallo added an empty-netter to give them the 5-3 win.
Coach Redlick had plenty of good things to say about how his team handled the changing tides in the win against Sherwood Park.
“There’s a saying we have that we talk about all the time and that is our ‘10-second evolution,’” said Redlick. “What that means is that no matter what happens, good or bad, it doesn’t matter, and in 10 seconds we need to shed it, focus, and get back on task.”
Raiders player Jacob Goudreau attributes the hot start to a tight-knit locker room that helps each player on and off the ice.
“We’ve created a really good atmosphere in the dressing room,” said Goudreau. “Our leaders have really made us come together with the bus drives and all that ... I think that has really helped us get off to an early-season roll.”
The Raiders will look to continue their undefeated streak this Sunday as they travel to Leduc to take on the Wilhauk Jerky Oil Kings. The team, currently second in the North Division, will return to Jarome Iginla Arena on Oct. 27 for a rematch with Sherwood Park.