The Prince Albert Raiders missed the Western Hockey League playoffs last season by finishing in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
That didn’t sit well with the players who returned this season, which has started with a dramatic turnaround that the Spokane Chiefs became the latest team to witness on Friday.
Right wing Reid Gardiner had both of his goals and one of his two assists during a five-goal third period as the Raiders stormed back for a 7-4 victory in the Chiefs’ first game at the Arena since Sept. 26.
Prince Albert (7-2-0-1, 15 points) owns the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Raiders picked up seven points during their five-games-in-seven-nights swing of the U.S. Division that ended in Spokane.
“We kind of had a bad taste in our mouth after last year, not making the playoffs, and guys worked hard over the summer,” said the 19-year old Gardiner, who leads the Raiders with nine goals and 19 points. “Coming into camp, everyone was in really good shape. Our mindset is really good right now. We’re not hoping to win, we’re expecting to win, and we’re changing the culture here.”
The Raiders scored four goals during a span of 9 minutes, 26 seconds of the third to turn Spokane’s 4-2 lead into a 6-4 deficit. Gardiner added an empty-netter with 10 seconds left.
“We spent so much time in our end and our kids did not skate,” Chiefs head coach Don Nachbaur said. “They didn’t move their feet at all. That other team’s big and strong and we looked small. We were tentative to get into a battle and consequently it caught up to us.”
Prince Albert finished 2 of 3 on the power play while Spokane never had the man advantage.
“I think that has to do with our feet,” Nachbaur said. “If you’re skating, you put teams in a situation where they have to haul you down or hook you or hold you. If you’re not moving, that’s an easy game for the other team to play against.”
The Raiders’ second power-play goal, by Gardiner at 5:31 of the third, came 6 seconds after a Chiefs penalty and tied the game at 4.
Five minutes later, Austin Glover and Matteo Gennaro scored 28 seconds apart for a 6-4 cushion.
“That was probably our best period of the year, especially on the road and in a tough building like Spokane here,” Gardiner said. “I think we were caught off-guard in the first period (when Spokane led 3-1) … but I think in the third the guys stepped up and came front and forward.”
Markson Bechtold, Riley Whittingham, Luke Harrison and Kolten Olynek all scored their first goals of the season for Spokane. Harrison, a 20-year-old forward selected Thursday in the WHL’s cut-down draft, made his debut for the Chiefs and started on a line with Bechtold and Jacob Cardiff.
Harrison’s goal at 19:44 of the first, assisted by Kailer Yamamoto, allowed the Chiefs (3-4-1-0) to take a 3-1 lead into intermission.
“That’s a silver lining in what happened tonight, but the biggest thing is we have to work harder,” Nachbaur said.
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