What a game in Langley on Thursday night.
For much of the game, we saw the Giants bend but not break as the Raiders used their speed to attack and create opportunities. Starting with a two-on-zero break in the opening seconds alongside Sean Montgomery, Brett Leason was an offensive engine all night long. If not for an incredible reaction by goaltender Trent Miner as he turned back and saw the puck rolling towards the goal line, Leason would have had his 32nd goal of the year later in the first. Altogether, the draft-eligible forward led the game with eight shots on goal but couldn’t get anything past Miner.
Leading 25-18 in shots after 40 minutes and trailing by one, it felt to me like Prince Albert would eventually break through and get right back into it. That was partially true, but it wasn’t until the dying minutes after the Giants extended their lead to two when Brayden Pachal snuck a shot through to make it a 2-1 game. Montgomery and Noah Gregor both had good looks in the final minutes, but Miner stood tall as he did all night, stopping 31 of 32 shots and taking first star honours.
With the goal, Pachal now has 12 on the year and is second only to Vancouver’s Bowen Byram  in goals for defencemen.
The game was significant on its own, with two of the best teams in the league going head to head for the only time this season, but it was amplified because there was nothing else on the schedule. It was the lone game in the WHL Thursday night, the NHL had a night off ahead of all-star weekend, and of course it was also nationally televised.
For anybody who tuned in to get a glimpse of the top-ranked team in the nation, I don’t think there should be any disappointment. Had they buried a couple of their chances the Raiders would have been in good shape, but it just didn’t end up being their night. Credit to Vancouver for a well-played game, as you can see how they’ve now strung together seven straight victories.
Of course, special teams played a big role in this one with the Raiders failing to score on four power play opportunities. Keep in mind that Vancouver is second only to Prince Albert in penalty killing this season across the league, so they did their part to make things difficult, but the Raiders are just three-for-19 [15.8 per cent] with the man advantage through five games on the trip.
Meanwhile, the penalty kill continues to perform extremely well allowing just one power play goal against on 15 opportunities over five games.
The Raiders finish with seven of a possible 10 points against the B.C. Division this year and will now be looking to finish the trip with a win over Kootenay on Saturday night.
It’s been a great trip for meeting people with ties back to Prince Albert.
Last Wednesday in Prince George, Allan Bristowe sat in the booth and did an excellent job providing colour commentary, sprinkling in a few jabs at friends listening back home.
Once we got to Kelowna, I had the chance to sit down over coffee with Darcey Jaeger, the son of legendary Raider broadcaster Morley Jaeger. He had all kinds of stories about growing up around the team throughout their heyday.
After morning skate in Langley on Thursday, the Raiders had a surprise visit from Bud McPhee, who spent a year in goal with the Prince Albert Blackhawks back in the 1940s before moving on to the University of Saskatchewan where he played with the Huskies. He now lives in the Vancouver area and wanted to see the Raiders in action.
Two Raiders are closing in on significant milestones in the weeks ahead.
Forward Dante Hannoun played in his 296th regular season game on Thursday night, and he could play in his 300th as soon as Feb. 4 in Edmonton.
Sean Montgomery hit number 300 earlier this season and is now on the verge of the Raiders’ all-time games played record of 330. Montgomery played in his 326th game Thursday and could tie the record in that same game against the Oil Kings.
With the win in Victoria on Tuesday night, the Raiders secured their first 40-win season of the 21st century. The last time the franchise crossed that milestone was in 1998-99 when they reached 45 victories.
In addition to that marker, the Raiders picked up their 20th road victory of the year to go with 20 home wins. This is the first time in modern history, dating back to 1996 which is as far back as online statistics go, that the organization has won 20 games on the road in a single season. The all-time franchise record is 27 road wins set in 1984-85, which means the Raiders would need to take seven of their final nine road games to tie that benchmark, as the schedule is four games shorter [two road games} than it was then.
Saturday will be the third of four meetings between the Raiders and ICE this season, and the final one in Cranbrook. The Raiders are 2-0 with a goal differential of 12-3 in the first two meetings. Kootenay will pay its first home game since Jan 6, having gone 2-3-1 in six games on the road through the prairie provinces.
We’ll have all the action on CKBI with pregame beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night.
On Twitter: @Trevor_Redden
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