Strong start by Raiders
Midget AAA team ties Sherwood Park Kings, shuts out KC Pats last weekend to start season
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 06:00 am
The St. Albert Raiders are headed in the right direction after starting off the season with three points in two games.
The 2012 midget AAA provincial finalists settled for a 4-4 tie against the Sherwood Park Kings in Saturday’s home opener and blanked the KC Pats 2-0 Sunday in Edmonton.
“We did pretty good to get three out of four points,” said left-winger Kyler Hehn. “Overall we played as a team pretty good. The first game was a little bit shaky but we came back and had a good game overall against KC.”
The only bad period of the bunch last weekend was the first frame against the Kings, when the Raiders gave up two power play goals and trailed 3-1.
“It was just nerves, but we brought it together in the second and third. We focused up and started doing the little things,” Hehn said.
Defenceman James Vermeulen scored on the power play in the first to knot it 1-1.
In the second Tyler Mrkonjic and Hehn capitalized with the man advantage to pull the Raiders even at three apiece. Mrkonjic converted a pass by Matteo Genarro four minutes into the period and Sebastian Auray helped set up Hehn five minutes later.
Michael Cardinal struck shorthanded in the third and the Kings replied four minutes later with the equalizer with 10:17 remaining.
Both teams were credited with 19 shots. In net for the Raiders was Pat Gora.
“As the game went on we started getting more physical and more shots on net. Every guy stepped up and we had a good end to the game,” Mrkonjic said. “It was good to see that battle back by the team.”
The next day Mitchell Martell stopped 26 shots for the shutout.
“Marty was pretty solid. He made a couple of big saves,” Hehn said. “We had a good penalty kill too and in the third period we had a couple of big kills.”
Auray and Cardinal assisted on Hehn’s game winner in the first and defenceman Zack Gonek lit the lamp late in the second. KC netminder Tanner McCorristan faced 29 shots.
“We worked hard in the defensive zone and it led to opportunities,” said Mrkonjic, 16.
The right winger was encouraged with how the Raiders raised their level of play throughout the weekend.
“It shows the progression of the team and as the year goes on we’re going to get better every practice and every game,” said the Grade 11 Bellerose Composite High School student.
Mrkonjic, Hehn and Auray, a shifty centre, are leading the way on and off the ice as the only returning Raiders on a roster that will not be finalized until the fifth game of the season on Oct. 13.
“The guys that are back are showing all the new guys the hard work and preparation you need in practice and in games to compete at this level. It’s not easy here. You have to work your hardest every single game, every shift and every period,” said Mrkonjic, who posted two goals and two assists in 21 games with the Raiders after starting the season with the St. Albert Midget 15 Flyers.
He already sees similarities between the 2011/12 Raiders that finished second in the north division at 21-9-4 and this year’s edition.
“Last year we had a good year. We had a lot of hard-working guys and that’s what we’ve got this year too. If we work hard every shift good things will happen for this team,” said the 2011 recipient of the prestigious John Reid Memorial Award for heart and hustle with the bantam AAA St. Albert Sabres.
Hehn, 17, is confident the Raiders can take another run at the provincial title. The north division playoff winners were swept by the Red Deer Rebels in the best-of-five final. The Rebels went on to win the Telus Cup national championship.
“We’re going to be just as good, if not better this year,” said Hehn, the most sportsmanlike player award winner and first team all-star selection with four goals and eight assists at the Mac’s tournament in Calgary.
In league play he finished with 11 goals and 30 points in 34 games.
“This year I just want to try and get better every shift,” said the Grade 12 Memorial Composite High School student who played bantam AAA in Spruce Grove.
This weekend in Calgary the Raiders play the Flames on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Father David Bauer Arena and the Northstars on Sunday at 3:15 p.m. at Max Bell Arena.