The St. Albert Raiders are removing the welcome mat from Akinsdale Arena during their six-game homestand in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League.
“We want to make sure teams don’t want to come play here,” said netminder Josh Dechaine. “It’s big to have that identity as a strong team at home. That’s what we’ve been talking about as a team and that’s what we’re trying to build right now.”
The Raiders are 2-4-4 but only 1-3-1 on home ice after splitting two games in the cozy confines of the Akinsdale facility last weekend.
“We’re fortunate to have a few games here at home. We need to get some wins and put some points together,” said right-winger Cam Lockard. “We have some ground to cover. We’ve got a couple of important games coming up.”
The Raiders host the Maple Leafs (1-9) tonight at 8 p.m. and the Lethbridge Hurricanes (5-3-2) Sunday at 1:15 p.m.
The visitors next weekend are the KC Pats (2-7) and Southeast Tigers (3-6-1) of Medicine Hat.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to play at home. This is where we want to make our stand as a team,” Dechaine said.
The Raiders are tied for seventh in the north standings, 10 points back of the first-place Canadian Athletic Club (8-0-2).
“We got off to a slow start. We definitely could’ve won some games that we tied and maybe lost. We just need to put a couple of pieces together and we’ll be good if we do that,” said Lockard, one of six first-year midgets on a roster that includes five returnees from the fifth-place 18-11-6 Raiders last season.
Dechaine, 16, believes the Raiders are on the right track towards a winning season.
“Overall we’re making progress and that’s the biggest thing right now. You can notice the work that’s getting done in practice and how it’s paying off,” said the Grade 11 Paul Kane High School student. “Basically from game one to now we’re making steps. We’re going in the right direction and that’s good for the end of the season.”
The first win for the Raiders since their season opener on the road was 7-4 against the UFA Bisons (5-4-1) of Strathmore last Saturday. It was 2-2 after the first and 4-3 Raiders after two periods.
“It was a huge team effort. It was our first really big team win together,” said Dechaine (2-2-3, 3.52 GAA).
He stopped 15 out of 16 shots in the third period and 29 overall.
“The team played extremely well in front of me. I let in a few iffy goals but the team was battling for me.”
Seven goals on 28 shots was the best offensive showing by the Raiders this season.
“The team just kept scoring. Our power play (three goals in the third) was on fire and I think (UFA) scored one out of 11 power plays,” said Dechaine, a puck stopper for the midget 15 St. Albert Flyers last season.
Parker AuCoin potted his team-leading seventh and eighth goals and Ryan Peckford (shorthanded), Ryan Cooper, Cam Mazur, Brayden Nicholetts and Lockard also scored.
Luigi Naccarato, Peckford and affiliate Chase Hawkins also collected two assists apiece.
“We had a strong game. We didn’t make too many mistakes and it worked out for us,” said Lockard.
His first goal as a Raider was a power-play effort to make it 6-3. Peckford and Brendan Kallis drew assists.
“We have a play on the power play we run where Ryan just skates behind the net and throws it out front and I had an open net. It worked perfect,” said Lockard, who skates on a line with Peckford and Mazur. “It was pretty exciting to finally get the monkey off my back.”
The next day Lockard tallied twice on the power play in the 5-3 loss to the Grande Prairie Storm (3-3-4). Jaedon Leslie also connected with the man advantage.
The Storm converted two power-play opportunities and the second man-advantage goal was the game winner with 3:26 to play to break a 3-3 deadlock.
The team’s last goal was a shorthanded effort into an empty net with 30 seconds remaining.
The Raiders were outshot 43-23 and Ethan Crotty was in net.
“We had a couple of mental breakdowns and it cost us a couple of goals against and we lost the game,” said Lockard, one of five Raiders who played for the bantam AAA Spruce Grove PAC Saints last season.
The Grade 10 student at Hilltop High School in Whitecourt commutes back and from his hometown to St. Albert for practices and games.
“I just want to play hockey at the highest level I can so I have to travel to do that,” said Lockard, 14, who was selected by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the fourth round (72nd overall) in the 2014 Western Hockey League bantam draft.