Raiders pumped for playoffs
Midget AAA team gunning for provincial glory after last year's second-place playoff finish
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 09, 2013 06:00 am
The St. Albert Raiders are prepping for a long playoff run after crossing the finish line in second place last year.
The No. 1 team in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League at 17-5-5 has seven games remaining until the post-season starts.
“We’re trying to get better as we go on because we’ve got to get the job done,” said centre Jason Miller.
Last season the Raiders were the sixth St. Albert team and the first since 1998 to win the Joe Cherrington Memorial Trophy as the north division playoff winner.
In the best-of-five provincial final the Raiders lost three straight to the Red Deer Rebels, the eventual Telus Cup national champions.
The Raiders finished the playoffs at 6-5 after placing second in the north at 21-9-4.
“We’ve got to use that for motivation. We want to get that one step further than they did. It’s kind of a competition,” said Miller, one of 16 newcomers on the roster.
The Raiders are 9-1-2 in their last 12 games after manhandling the Grande Prairie Storm 6-1 Sunday at Akinsdale Arena.
The top team in the north holds a three-point lead over the Southside Athletic Club (15-5-6) for the division pennant and Red Deer (15-4-6), the three-time defending provincial champions, for the regular season title. Both teams have games in hand on the Raiders.
“The league is really tight right now. Teams are battling and anyone can win. It’s just who shows up and who doesn’t, but we’ll be ready for the playoffs,” said defenceman Zack Gonek.
The Raiders rebounded from their playoff loss at the 35th annual Mac’s Midget AAA World Invitation Tournament in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home against the Lloydminster Bobcats (12-6-8) before blowing the Storm away.
“After losing in the quarter-finals it was hard to jump back into the swing of things but we got the job done this weekend,” Miller said.
At the Mac’s the Raiders won their first three games by a margin of 13-2 on the strength of two shutouts, then lost their last pool game 4-3 and in the playoffs dropped a 3-2 decision in double overtime to the Saskatoon Contacts.
“At the Mac’s we became more of a team than we were the whole year. Everyone had fun. We worked good as a team and it pumped everyone up,” Gonek said. “We had a few days off and then we went back to practice on Friday and got back into the game. We were ready to play Saturday and today.”
The Bobcats outshot the Raiders 9-5 in the first period while posting a 2-1 lead. Sebastian Auray connected on the power play to even the score and in the second Matteo Gennaro notched the equalizer with 2:38 left in the period. Shots overall were 24-20 for the Raiders. In net was Mitch Martell (11-3-2, 1.74 GAA).
“We let them get those two quick goals off the start and then we just couldn’t bounce back after that,” Miller said. “It was way better in the third period for us than in the first. In the first we came out slow.”
Gonek, 17, was encouraged by the resiliency the Raiders displayed after falling behind early.
“We worked good as a team together. We worked our way back to make it 2-2,” he said. “Lloyd is a good team, we just had a little rough patch here and there. We knew we had some things we could do better.”
The Raiders took charge early against the Storm with goals by Blake Bosch and Harrison Klein in the first and a pair by Kyler Hehn and singles from Auray and Miller in the second.
“We came out to play today for sure. Everyone was working hard, battling, getting pucks out and getting them in deep. It was just a whole good game all around,” Gonek said.
Down 6-0, the Storm scored with 5:46 to play in the second.
Nick Koberstein chipped in with three assists and Jakob Lavoie had two helpers.
Hehn’s two-goal outing gave the Raiders’ leading scorer 19 goals and 35 points in 27 games. Auray is second in team scoring with 14 goals and 30 points in 26 games.
The Raiders peppered two Storm goalies with 33 shots. The winning netminder was Pat Gora (6-2-3, 2.31 GAA).
“We had a great effort. We executed the game plan perfectly and did everything we wanted to,” said Miller, 16.
His seventh goal and 15th point in 27 games made it 5-0 with 14:22 left in the second. The speedy Raider is a mainstay on the team’s penalty kill while contributing offensively on the third line after leading the midget 15 Spruce Grove Saints with 58 points in 38 games last season.
“I took a great step forward this year. There is great coaching all the way through the team so it’s been really easy getting into the swing of things,” said the Grade 11 Spruce Grove Composite High School student.
At the Mac’s, he sniped the game winner against the Calgary Buffaloes and also picked up two assists in the tournament. In the quarter-finals, his brilliant shorthanded effort almost ended the suspense early in the second OT frame before Saskatoon scored on a breakaway during four-on four action.
“I came wide and the puck rolled across the crossbar and just ended on top of the net,” Miller said. “I’m trying to put that behind me now and take the next step towards better things.”
Gonek also turned in strong effort at the Mac’s after a knee injury and concussion limited the former midget 15 St. Albert Flyer to three goals and one assist in 15 games. The Grade 11 Bellerose Composite High School student surpassed those point totals with three goals and two assists in five games at the tournament.
“It was cool to play on a big ice surface. You have a lot more room to do things and make more passes. You have more time to think so it was a change and it was fun,” said the son of Jody Gonek, a former St. Albert Saint and Victoria Cougar who recorded seven assists and 279 penalty minutes in 76 Western Hockey League games.
The Raiders skate Saturday against the Maple Leafs (6-14-5) at 5:15 p.m. at Bill Hunter Arena.