The St. Albert Raiders will finish off their trip to the Mac’s tournament today against the North Island Silvertips before departing from Calgary for the long bus ride home.
The Raiders opened the 32nd annual midget AAA competition on Boxing Day with a tough 4-3 loss to the UFA Bisons, followed by Sunday’s 6-4 defeat to the Red Deer Rebels and Monday’s 3-3 tie against the Saskatoon Contacts.
“I think everyone’s pretty disappointed with the result. We expected to be preparing for a quarter-final but unfortunately we’re preparing to go home,” said assistant coach Geoff Giacobbo. “We got on the big stage and we struggled but as long as we learn from it we’ll be better prepared for February and March where it counts.”
The experiences from the short-format tournament will be put to good use come playoff time, when the opening series is a best-of-three and the Raiders will be under the gun again.
“When you’re playing big games, you have to be ready to go. The little things matter. We spent the better part of the last month focusing on the little things and we did a good job,” Giacobbo said. “As coaches we feel we have 90 to 95 per cent of our team doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We have to get the rest on board and it’s mental toughness, preparation and execution.”
Brad Miller returned from an injury to man the blue paint against UFA, allowing four goals on 18 shots while the Raiders directed 24 against George Merik.
Troy Bourke was named the Raiders’ player of the game, scoring the opening goal. Dustin Bearisto and Matt Waseylenko also connected as the Raiders went 0-for-3 with the man advantage.
“UFA played a good game and they got some fortunate puck luck and we ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard,” Giacobbo said. “It was important for us to tighten up in our own zone and know our assignments when the puck isn’t in our end of the ice. We need to do a better job of focusing and making sure we score on the opportunities that we do get.”
Tyler Rebkowich, Brady Goebel and Connor Hoekstra each had a goal and an assist and Bearisto also scored against the Rebels. Miller started the game, facing 18 shots and allowing four, before affiliate Mike Brown stepped in and allowed two goals on nine shots. Mac Engel turned aside 17 shots in net for the Rebels. Goebel was named the Raiders’ player of the game.
Against Saskatoon, tied for first with Prince Albert in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, Giacobbo said the execution was fairly solid against one of the best clubs in western Canada. The Raiders, facing a 3-0 deficit, had to come from behind to tie the game with goals from Garth Wallin, Brett Grant and Shane Brolly, the team’s player of the game. Miller faced 25 shots.
“We were happy with the effort against Saskatoon. We felt we probably deserved a better fate, in fact we probably deserved a better fate in all three so far,” Giacobbo said. “They’re a good club and we had lots of opportunities to put the game away. It would have been nice to put a power play goal away. We had a lot of good chances but we couldn’t find a way to capitalize.”
Special teams have been a bit of a rollercoaster for the Raiders so far this season, said Giacobbo, and right now the man-advantage is in tough.
“Power play has been in a bit of drought. We’ve been moving the puck well and getting good shots to the net but it’s just not bouncing our way.”
League play resumes Sunday for the north division-leading Raiders (16-4-5) in Grande Prairie against the Storm (6-13-4) at 3 p.m. In the pennant race the Raiders lead the Lloydminster Bobcats (15-3-5) by two points but the Border City team has two games in hand.
ICE CHIPS: Netminder Liam Liston (12-1-3, 1.93 GAA) missed the Mac’s because of commitments with Team Pacific at the World U17 Hockey Challenge, which wraps up Monday at Timmins, Ont.
Galbraith is second in team scoring with 24 points on three goals and 21 assists in 24 games. Bourke is the top scorer with 13 goals and 33 points in 24 games. In third spot is Ryan Harrison with 11 goals and 22 points in 24 games.