Raiders break out of slump
Two wins last weekend after season high three-straight losses
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 06:00 am
The St. Albert Raiders are back on track in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League after the longest losing streak of the season derailed the 2012 provincial finalists.
Last weekend in Calgary the Raiders posted victories of 4-0 against the Buffaloes and 5-1 against the Royals after losing three in a row during a subpar 1-3-1 effort last month.
“When you drop a few games it’s an opportunity for everybody to kind of look themselves in the mirror and just say, what do we have to do better, coaching staff included,” said Sandro Pisani, head coach of the second-place Raiders (19-8-5) in the north standings.
A 12-day break in the schedule allowed Pisani and assistant coach Umberto Fiorillo to whip the Raiders into shape for their last four games before the playoffs.
“The last two weeks and this weekend we really focused on our process; what it’s going to take to get a 60-minute effort,” Pisani said. “We feel if we give a 60-minute effort we’re as good as any team and that’s kind of the message that we relayed to the boys. We’re just going to continue with the process and what it takes to compete for 60 minutes.”
Saturday against the Buffaloes (16-9-6) the Raiders recorded their first win since Jan. 6 as Mitch Martell (12-5-1, 1.73 GAA) stopped 28 shots for his league-leading fourth shutout and the team’s fifth of the season.
The Raiders scored three times on six shots in the third period after the first of two goals by Brett Smythe opened the scoring on the power play with 5:10 left in the second.
Captain Tyler Mrkonjic and Kyler Hehn also potted goals and Jason Miller had two helpers against the team that beat the Raiders 3-1 in St. Albert on Jan. 20 in the last game before the layoff.
“We competed real hard and executed our game plan. We’re happy with the effort definitely,” Pisani said.
Sunday the Raiders capitalized three times on the power play during a five-goal outburst after the Royals (15-8-7) struck at even strength early in the match.
Hehn’s hat-trick performance included two goals with the man advantage. The assistant captain from Stony Plain is tied for the league lead in goals with 23 and ranks fifth overall in the points race with 39 in 32 games.
The second-year Raiders’ forward was pointless in three straight losses before finding the back of the net in Calgary.
“When he is on his game and is contributing offensively it definitely makes our attack a lot stronger,” Pisani said.
Smythe snapped a 1-1 tie at 3:40 of the third and Dan Huculak made it 3-1 on the power play at 11:31.
Shots were 31-26 for the Royals. In net was Pat Gora (7-3-3, 2.11 GAA).
The Raiders spent a good chunk of the game shorthanded. They were penalized 15 times for 32 minutes.
“Our penalty kill was phenomenal. We were on the short end of some calls in our opinion and were down at three different times five on three for a full two minutes. I think we went 14-for-14 on the penalty kill and three-for-six on the power play,” Pisani said. “Our special teams were a real focal point over the two week period and this weekend they were definitely special.”
The last home game before the playoffs is Sunday against the Royals at 3:45 p.m. The Raiders are 8-4-4 at Akinsdale Arena.
The regular season ends Feb. 16 for the Raiders in Leduc against the Oil Kings (15-11-5) at 6 p.m.
The top two teams in the north and south divisions have byes in the best-of-three opening playoff round.
After leading the north for most of the season as the No. 1 team in league play, the Raiders now trail the Southside Athletic Club (19-6-6) by one point with an extra game played.
The Red Deer Chiefs (19-4-7), three-time reigning provincial champions and 2012 Telus Cup national gold medallists, are the top team in the league.
“I’m not really too concerned about first or second or wherever we finish,” Pisani said. “As long as we play well and we’re continuing to get better in the next two weeks that’s more our concern than anything else.”