Christmas came early for the St. Albert Tire Warehouse Raiders.
The north division leaders in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League received a coveted invite to the 40th annual Mac’s tournament Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 in Calgary.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said netminder Evan Fradette of the first Mac’s invite for the Raiders since the 2012/13 team finished 3-2 as quarter-finalists. “It means we’re on a good track. We’ve been working really hard and playing as a team really well.”
The Mac’s consists of 25 teams from western Canada, the United States and Europe. Last year’s winner was the Belarus national U17 team.
“We were excited obviously when we found out we were going,” said netminder Mitch Reidy. “We didn’t get off to the best start (in league play at 2-5) but our goal is always to make the tournament and everything started to click near the final selection.”
The Raiders (9-7-2) are undefeated in six games while going 4-0-2 and two of the wins were back-to-back shutouts on home ice following a pair of one-goal losses.
“We just found our team synergy and it’s going very well,” Fradette said. “These past couple of games we’ve been clicking really well. Our play-making skills and especially our shot selection has come together really well instead of shooting and making selfish plays. We’ve been making team plays that have resulted in more goals and therefore the wins.”
The Raiders are rolling with everyone playing their part in the team’s success.
“Everybody is starting to learn their role and really buying into everything our coaching staff has been telling us to do,” said Reidy, one of six players remaining from the 16-14-4 Raiders last season.
Defensively the Raiders are tighter than a drum while averaging 2.05 goals against per game.
“It’s our constant work ethic. Getting back all the way and never giving up has just been really key as well as never backing down,” said Fradette of the No. 1 defensive team in the north.
“First off our penalty kill has been really good,” Reidy added. “Everybody has also been giving myself and Fradette chances to see the puck. They’re taking care of the bodies and we just take care of the puck.”
Reidy (7-3, 1.94 GAA, .927 save percentage) and Fradette (2-4-2, 1.96 GAA, .935 save percentage), rank eighth and ninth, respectively, in the AMHL in goals against average.
“I’ve been tracking the puck really well and making the second save and covering pucks,” said the Global Edmonton sports MVP for November. “It’s pretty good right now for myself but there is still lots of work.”
Reidy pitched the team’s first shutout by stopping 18 shots in the 4-0 decision against the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers (4-14-1) Nov. 11 and the next day Fradette handled 31 shots in a scoreless draw with the Calgary Royals (12-3-3).
“It’s mostly mental preparation if I have a really good game or an OK game but if something falters for me then it’s just lots of whistles and try and control my rebounds as much as I can so I have no bad goals whatsoever,” said Fradette, the co-recipeint of the Top Goaltender Award with Ryley Osland with the 2016/17 St. Albert Flyers in the Alberta Minor Midget AAA Hockey League.
Fradette is also one of seven Flyers from the 2017 provincial bronze medallists who cracked the Raiders lineup.
The Raiders have seven games remaining before the Mac’s, including the Dec. 19 main event against the Canadian Olympic women’s team at 7:15 p.m. at Go Auto Arena, after posting a 4-2-2 record in November.
“We have to make sure we just shore up our game. When we play better competition we have to do the little things right,” said Reidy, 17, a Grade 12 Bellerose Composite High School student.
The streaking Raiders have road games on tap tonight against the Airdrie Bisons (5-10-2) at 7 p.m. and the Calgary Flames (10-4-3) Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Father David Bauer Arena.
“The best way to keep on a streak is to not to focus on what you’ve done in the past but just focus on the next game. You just have to be ready for who you’re playing next and prepare for that exact game and nothing else,” said Fradette, 16, a Grade 11 Paul Kane High School student.
ICE CHIPS: Defencemen Kyle Fulton (Sherwood Park Crusaders) and Brock Bartholomew (Grande Prairie Storm) and forward Cam Aucoin (Crusaders) were called up by Alberta Junior Hockey League teams last weekend.
Aucoin and Bartholomew are among eight Raiders so far who have made their AJHL debuts.
Last season, 10 Raiders played in their first AJHL games.