The St. Albert Raiders are back on the road this weekend as they face off against the south division Red Deer Rebels and Calgary Royals.
Last weekend down south, the Raiders (13-3-3) extended their undefeated streak in the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League to seven games (six wins and one tie) with a 5-5 draw against the UFA Bisons (7-10-3) at Strathmore and an 8-3 win over the Calgary Buffaloes (8-8-4). The results left the Raiders tied with the Lloydminster Bobcats (13-1-3) for top spot in the north.
Against the Bisons it was 1-1 after the first but the Raiders fell behind 4-1 in the second before they clawed back to tie it up with less than a minute left in the game.
“We were off in all aspects of our game and we're disappointed with our effort,” said head coach Sandro Pisani. “We didn't come to play. We weren't prepared. We got outplayed in the first period and most of the second. After it was 4-1, we seemed to wake up a little bit and came back to tie it.
“I don't think it was road legs. We got there with enough time. I don't know what to attribute it to. Maybe it was the Olympic ice, the bigger surface, but we just seemed to be a little bit slow and not decisive with our decisions. We weren't very good.”
Pisani and assistant coach Geoff Giacobbo challenged the team after the game to pick it up against the Buffaloes. Heading into a smaller surface than what the Raiders are used to, the team responded with seven different goal scorers. Only Kevin Lacroix notched two.
“We were happy with the effort. The surface [at Acadia Arena] is very small. There's not a lot of room to hide and our guys responded physically very well,” Pisani said. “Our power play was very effective. Most of our goals came with the man advantage. We came to compete and you could see we were prepared from the drop of the puck.”
The big message Pisani gave his players at Thursday's practice session was to not repeat the slow start they saw in Strathmore against Red Deer (11-4-2) and to be more mentally focused. Friday’s score was not available at press time.
“We know they're a good hockey team and we have to be ready to compete with them. If we do that we'll be fine, but for some reason a lot of the time we get casual,” he said.
The Raiders will play on another small surface when they face the Royals (6-8-4) tonight at Stu Peppard Arena. Pisani will expect his players to respond the same way they did against the Buffaloes, looking for them to move the puck quickly through the neutral zone and get it in behind the net and start the cycle.
“It's another small surface so we anticipate they'll try to stay up in the neutral zone and cause turnovers, which we can't allow so we'll have to get pucks by their defenders and play our game as far as getting hard on the forecheck. We have to chip deep and get on them quick.”
The fifth road game in a row for the Raiders is Tuesday in Fort Saskatchewan against the Rangers (4-12-2) at 8 p.m.
Leading up to the Mac’s tournament in Calgary during the Christmas break, the Raiders host Red Deer on Dec. 20 at 2:30 p.m. and the Southside Athletic Club (8-7-4) Dec. 23 at 7:45 p.m.
Meanwhile, tickets are on sale for the Jan. 10 game between the Canadian national women‘s team and the Raiders at Performance Arena. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for youths under 12 and seniors. They are available at St. Albert Source for Sports stores. Game time is 6 p.m.