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Youthful Prince Albert Raiders out-skate Royals in 6-3 win

The much younger and less-experienced Prince Albert Raiders out-hustled and out-played the Victoria Royals in a 6-3 victory on Tuesday.
Victoria Royals Luke Rybinski and goaltender Brayden Holt stop the Prince Albert Raiders' Evan Herman in WHL action at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The Prince Albert Raiders have earned a team-of-the-future label in the Western Hockey League after trading two NHL first-round draft picks, Nolan Allan and Kaiden Guhle, over the past two years for a flotilla of WHL prospects draft first-round picks over the next couple of years.

But the small crowd Tuesday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre would be hard pressed not to believe the Raiders’ time is now. That’s what it seemed like as the much-younger and less-experienced Prince Albert team out-skated, out hustled, out-played the Royals in a 6-3 victory. That’s far from the case as the Raiders are only 18-25-3 and 11th place in the Eastern Conference, although they have now won their last three games.

The deflating Victoria performance was all the more stark in coming after Saturday night’s inspired 3-2 victory by Victoria over the powerhouse Kamloops Blazers, who feature eight NHL draft picks, three Canada world junior championship gold medallists and are hosting the Memorial Cup.

“We were definitely flat,” said Royals GM and coach Dan Price.

“We were expecting an emotional sag and talked about how to guard against it.”

The Royals (14-29-5), with 20 games remaining, are tied with Kelowna for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference but the Rockets hold four games in hand. That’s eight potential Kelowna points that the Royals, who have no games remaining with the Rockets, have no control over and can only scoreboard watch.

What makes the situation even more sobering is that while the Raiders have sacrificed the present for a potentially big future, the Royals have stood pat at the trade deadline this season and last season and are all-in with this largely-veteran group. And it is running out of time on the season.

Jake Poole opened scoring Tuesday with his Royals-leading 27th goal but it was downhill from there for the hosts as the Raiders got five consecutive goals from different players, two of them on the power play by Ryder Ritchie and Aiden Oiring and one short-handed by Landon Kosior.

“The special teams swung it for them,” said Price.

Royals defenceman Kalem Parker, the 113th-ranked North American skater for the 2023 NHL draft, staunched the bleeding late in the third period with a power-play goal followed by another on the odd-man by Matthew Hodson to make the score more flattering for Victoria. Prince Albert closed it out with an empty-net goal by Evan Herman, his second tally of the night.

The belated third-period push back was too little too late.

“Moral victories, like a good third period after a bad two periods, don’t resonate [at this point of the season],” said Price.

“Where was that in the first two periods?”

Victoria will need to find three complete periods in games in Prince George on Friday and Saturday.

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