Raiders skate into playoffs
Midget AAA team hosts Lloydminster tonight in game one in best-of-five north division semifinal
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013 06:00 am
The spotlight shines on the St. Albert Raiders in tonight’s playoff debut in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League.
The 2012 provincial finalists host the Lloydminster Bobcats in the opening game in the best-of-five north division semifinal. Faceoff is 7:45 p.m. at Akinsdale Arena.
It’s the first game following a 10-day layoff for the Raiders (19-9-6) after finishing second in the north standings for a first-round bye.
“We’re really excited. It should be fun. Hopefully we can get a lot of people here in the rink to start it off on Wednesday,” captain Tyler Mrkonjic told the Gazette at Monday’s practice.
During the season series the Raiders won 5-2 on Nov. 25 in the Border City and tied the Bobcats 2-2 Jan. 5 in St. Albert in the team’s first game after the Mac’s Midget AAA World Invitation Tournament in Calgary.
In the north the Raiders ranked fourth in goals scored with 116 and was the top defensive team with 70 against. Offensively the fourth-place Bobcats (16-10-8) were seventh at 101 and defensively tied for second at 98.
“They’ve got a skilled team. They have good players up front that can score so we have to make sure that we’re containing them, getting pucks in their zone and keep them from scoring in our zone and play good defensively, which we’re really focused on,” Mrkonjic said. “But in every playoff series, no matter who you’re playing, it’s always going to be a physical game and we’ve got to make sure we come out and play hard against them period after period, shift after shift, because in the playoffs you can’t take one shift off.”
The Raiders are a lukewarm 3-4-2 in 2013 after losing their last game before the playoffs, 5-1 to the Oil Kings (16-13-5) in Leduc.
The Bobcats eliminated the fifth-place Oil Kings in game three in the best-of-three opening round.
Mrkonjic, 17, isn’t concerned about the team’s losing record after dropping the last two games at the Mac’s as quarter-final finishers.
“We can’t worry about the season now, that’s over and done with,” said the second-year Raider. “The things that we struggled with in the season we have to work on in practice going into the playoffs and make sure we get those things better. We’ve got to be improved and have our tempo up heading in.”
The Raiders were led offensively in the regular season by Kyler Hehn’s 41 points in 34 games for fourth place in league scoring. His 24 goals ranked third overall.
Brett Smythe was the team’s top playmaker with 23 assists in 34 games.
Mitch Martell (12-6-2, 2.02 GAA and .912 save percentage) and Pat Gora (7-3-4, 2.05 GAA and .908 save percentage) combined for five shutouts, with Martell tied for the league lead with four.
“We feel that if you have a great defensive zone that will lead to offence,” said Mrkonjic, a right winger who scored his 10th goal and 18th point in the loss in Leduc. “We’re really focused on our defensive zone and making sure that we’re on guys and we’re not letting in goals. When that happens we’ll have our chances in the offensive zone that we’ll have to capitalize on.”
Game two in the series is 4 p.m. Saturday in Lloydminster and game three goes at 6:45 p.m. Monday at Akinsdale Arena.
If needed, game four is March 5 in the Border City at 6:30 p.m. and game five is March 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Akinsdale Arena.
The winner plays the Southside Athletic Club (22-6-6) or Sherwood Park Kings (12-11-11) in the best-of-five north final.
Mrkonjic believes the playoff travel schedule isn’t a big deal as far as the Raiders are concerned.
“You have to be prepared for wherever you’re going to play so you have to make sure you’re focused and mentally prepared, no matter if it’s here or in Lloyd. You have to be ready to play,” said the Grade 11 Bellerose Composite High School student.