Raiders in playoff battle

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Midget AAA team challenges first-place Leduc in north division semifinal

The St. Albert Raiders still have their sights set on pulling off a major playoff upset in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League after losing the series opener against the Leduc Oil Kings in overtime.

“It was a good game. We battled hard. We just came out on the wrong side of the scoreboard,” said right winger Luc Smith of the 3-2 setback Wednesday in Leduc. “It’s going to be a different story (Friday). We’ve just got to play our game and do what we do best.”

Friday’s score from Akinsdale Arena was unavailable at press time.

Game three in the best-of-five north semifinal goes Sunday at 4 p.m. in Leduc.

If needed, game four is Wednesday at Akinsdale and game five is Friday in Leduc. Start times are 7:45 p.m.

Five wins and eight points separated first-place Leduc and the fifth-place Raiders in the standings.

In league play the Raiders and Leduc battled to a 1-1 draw in the Sept. 28 season opener in St. Albert and the Oil Kings won 2-1 at home Oct. 5.

In the 35-game schedule Leduc scored 36 more goals than the Raiders and let in one more goal than the top defensive team in the north.

Leduc had a first-round bye and the Raiders rallied to eliminate the Sherwood Park Kings in the third and deciding game in their opening round series.

“They’re a hard team to play against. They move the puck good. They work hard. They also hit lots and that’s different from Sherwood Park so we’re going to have to battle a little harder,” said Smith, who sniped the series-clinching goal in double OT against the Kings on Sunday in Sherwood Park.

Brendan Kallis echoed Smith’s assessment of Leduc.

“They’re very fast and a very heavy team. They like to hit and get pucks deep a lot. They also have quite a bit of skill. They like to shoot the puck quite a bit, which is different than Sherwood Park. They’re a pass first kind of a team,” said the Raiders defenceman.

“It’s a different series than Sherwood Park that’s for sure. There is just some minor adjustments the team has to make and we’ll be fine.”

In game one the Raiders struck first on Conner Luken’s goal in the opening period and Leduc was quick to reply.

Matt McNeil made it 2-1 in the second and Leduc tied it with 12:30 left in regulation time.

Riley Cardinal’s unassisted goal on Leduc’s second shot in OT against Pat Dea (2-2, 2.10 GAA) ended the suspense.

“Coming off that big victory in overtime I thought we had lots of jump,” Smith said. “It was just a tough one in overtime. It was just a bad bounce on Daisy and the puck just rolled in.”

The Raiders outshot Leduc 20-14 in the first and 40-38 overall.

“It’s always tough to lose in overtime, especially when we had them like that,” Kallis said. “We just need to bounce back for (Friday) night’s game and go from there.”

Kallis, 16, is confident the Raiders can get the job done after their dramatic series victory against the sixth-place Kings.

“That helped quite a bit. It kind of reassured the belief that we can beat these guys,” said the Grade 11 St. Albert Catholic High School student. “If we play together we can beat any team in the league.”

The six-foot-two Kallis forced Sunday’s showdown with the Kings with the game-winning blast in game two Saturday in St. Albert. His goal with 43 seconds left in the third snapped a 2-2 deadlock. McNeil sealed the deal into an empty net.

“It was a faceoff in their end and I was lined up in the middle. We won the faceoff back to my D partner, Kole Bryks, and he passed it over to me and I just took a couple of strides in. It was a good screen by Taylor Lotoski in front of the net and I just saw some open net and I tried to get it there,” said Kallis of the biggest goal of his career. “To do that in a packed Akinsdale Arena, where I’ve watched the older teams play the past couple of years, it was really something special to be able to do that in front of the home fans.”

The Raiders refused to lose after dropping game one 3-2 to the Kings in Sherwood Park.

“Our season was on the line and our backs were against the wall and we came out and performed the best we could and everything fell into place,” said Smith, 16.

His OT heroics in the 2-1 game three thriller completed the series comeback. Lukan and Parker AuCoin were credited with assists on the one-timer near the faceoff circle by the six-foot-four Raider with 2:30 gone in the second OT period.

“Lukan shot the puck from about the blueline and it just bounced right onto my tape and my reactions took over and I put it into the top corner. I didn’t even know what to do after I scored, it was just so exciting,” said the Grade 10 Memorial Composite High School student. “It’s something that I will remember forever. It was a good team bonding moment. It was fun.”

The Raiders entered the playoffs undefeated in seven games, with four wins and three ties, and Smith believes the team has carried that success into the playoffs.

“We’re playing good. When push comes to shove we’re there. We’re standing up for each other and we’re working hard. We’re really clicking,” said the bantam AAA product of the St. Albert PAC Saints.

Defensively the Raiders are a cut above the rest as the second-best defensive team in the AMHL and it shows in the playoffs.

“It obviously helps having both Pattys (Dea and Pat Gora) back there. They’re real strong in the net. We also have a big, solid D core. We don’t overcomplicate things. We know our jobs and what to do. We also have to give credit to a lot of the forwards. Instead of playing an offensive-minded game they worry about their defensive zone first and blocking shots and making sure they’re winning their blueline battles,” said Kallis, last year’s captain of the midget 15 St. Albert Flyers.

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About Author

Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.