Five straight wins have the St. Albert Raiders right on the heels of the Lloydminster Bobcats for first place in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League.
The Raiders (12-3-2) are three points behind the Bobcats (13-1-3) as they continue to play lights-out hockey defensively with only two goals against in their last five games. The winning streak includes three shutouts in four games, highlighted by 5-0 and 4-0 victories against the Calgary Northstars and Calgary Flames, respectively, last weekend at Akinsdale Arena.
“We haven’t won anything yet but we’ve been fortunate that we carry 22 guys and we’re healthy. The guys in the dressing room know that they have to compete. It’s a commitment by the entire team to the system, and when we do that, we’re a hard team to play against,” said assistant coach Geoff Giacobbo.
Brad Miller posted the shutout against the Northstars (5-8-3), stopping all 23 shots he faced.
“We had a good game. We thought we could be more physical but we did a lot of things right. Our draw plays and special teams were very good,” Giacobbo said.
Liam Liston, recently named to Team Pacific for the World U17 Hockey Challenge, Dec. 29 to Jan. 4 at Timmins, Ont., got the goose-egg against the Flames (8-6-5) with 26 saves.
“They’re a good hockey team, they move the puck well and like to battle,” Giacobbo said.
The Raiders suffered a 4-2 road loss to the Flames in early November and the reaction from some of the Calgary players fuelled the Raiders to make sure they paid the Flames back.
“We felt they were pretty cocky after they beat us and that’s something we didn’t forget,” Giacobbo said.
St. Albert was two-for-four on the power play and was a perfect eight-for-eight on the penalty kill.
“We went into their barn and they made us pay, so we knew coming into today it was going to be a pretty good battle,” said Brendan McCalpin. “We came out right off the gun and kind of caught them on their heels. They came in a bit late from their bus trip and we just come out pretty quick.”
McCalpin, 17, opened the scoring 23 seconds into the contest by tipping home a point shot from Nick Walters.
“It was just a pretty early goal,” smiled McCalpin. “Nick just threw a shot on net, and I was able to get the tip on it and it just went through the five-hole.”
Garth Wallin had all sorts of time four minutes later to double the lead. Wallin took a feed from Ryan Harrison behind the net to the slot, putting the puck above the blocker of goalie Cole Cheveldave.
Liston came up with a tough glove save on a partial break late in the first, snapping the leather just in time on a wrister from Connor Garden.
Harrison finished off a tic-tac-toe play during a five-on-three advantage at 11:53 of the second, tapping the puck into a wide-open net.
Walters closed out the scoring with a point shot on the power play with 1:47 to go in the game, blasting it through a screen and past Cheveldave’s blocker.
“Our objective is to get better every game and we’ve been focusing on little things like getting pucks out of our zone and deep,” Giacobbo said. “We also have two very good goaltenders; that makes us a very fortunate hockey team.”
A key factor in the winning streak has been the Raiders’ commitment to blocking shots and playing sound defensive hockey.
“We’re doing a good job in front of our goaltenders getting pucks out. Our breakouts have consistently been better. We challenge everyone to make the right plays and block shots. Those are the things we’re doing and it’s paying off in the goals-against column,” Giacobbo said.
St. Albert currently leads the league defensively in goals allowed with just 28 against, an average of 1.64 per game.
“We’ve had, I would say, 10-plus blocked shots a game. Maybe one of those shots goes by and there goes the shutout. We’re playing really tight defensively and not giving up as many turnovers in the neutral zone or the D-zone. We do our best for our goalies. They give us their all, so we must do our best for them,” said McCalpin, a second-year Raider who started the season with the Spruce Grove Saints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
The Raiders will spend this week preparing for six games on the road, including two trips to face teams in the south division. McCalpin said it’s going to take a commitment to playing as a team and playing confident to come out with wins.
“We’re going down south two weekends in a row and we’ve got to go into those barns thinking we’re going to come away with two points,” McCalpin said.
Saturday the Raiders play the UFA Bisons (7-10-2) at Strathmore at 5:15 p.m. and Sunday they face off against the Calgary Buffaloes (8-7-4) at 2:15 p.m. at Acadia Arena.