In a seesaw affair between the Calgary Hitmen and Prince Albert Raiders, it was fitting that each team skated away with at least a point.
However, it was Raiders’ captain, Mark McNeill who tallied the game-deciding goal in the shootout, lifting Prince Albert to a 5-4 win at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday night.
Netminder, Mack Shields received the call for Calgary, making 30 saves in his WHL debut.
“He played great, it was his first start in this league, it is tough when you face 35 shots, eight power plays against and a couple of five-on-threes, but he did what he needed to do to get us into a shootout,” complimented Greg Chase.
“It was all about the experience, going out on the ice and having the spotlight on me in the crease,” Shields said of the starting opportunity. “It was a huge experience and playing in front of all these great fans, it really helped my focus and will help my mental game going forward.”
It could be expected that the Raiders would enter through the Dome doors with a vendetta, coming off a 0-3-0-1 record at the hands of the Hitmen last season.
Last year’s season series result against the HItmen was just a glimpse into a disappointing 2011-12 Prince Albert campaign as they finished the year at the bottom of the WHL. However, now with a 5-0-0-1 start, it is apparent that they have turned the page and are ready to contend among a stacked Eastern Conference.
“They’ve got a good group of forwards and a really good goaltender,” said Chase of his opposition. “ We just fought again tonight and out battled their forwards, got pucks behind their D and we had a good chance to win this game.”
The visitors lit the lamp first as Anthony Bardaro fielded a bounce pass off the sideboards and launched a goal over the shoulder of Shields mid way into the opening stanza.
A scoring frenzy ensued in the second period as the lead teeter-tottered between the two teams.
Brooks Macek drew the score back to even about nine minutes in as he skated up the middle of the ice and toe dragged the puck over the catcher of Luke Siemens, extending his point streak to five games.
Prince Albert pushed back barely a minute later as they took advantage of a powerplay opportunity to regain the 2-1 lead.
It was the work of Calgary’s rookies that knotted things back up as Austin Calladine pick pocketed the puck from the Raiders defender behind the net. He threw it out in front of the net, as Jake Virtanen quickly released the puck from the edge of the paint, drawing the score to 2-2.
The scoring did not stop there as Chase Clayton provided Calgary with their first lead of the game as he deflected an off-speed shot off the stick of a Prince Albert defenceman and in.
Before the period drew to a close, the Raiders wiped the slate clean on the two-man advantage as Bardaro banged in his second of the night.
To the detriment of the Hitmen, the white and green recorded another on the two-man advantage in the third frame, reestablishing a 4-3 lead. Calgary native and Raiders d-man Josh Morrissey put past a shot from the point for his second of the season
With time expiring, a goalmouth scramble resulted in Greg Chase chipping in the equalizer and pushing the game into overtime.
Extra minutes could not decide a winner as the game came down to the shootout. Brooks Macek, Greg Chase and Jake Virtanen were all stopped in their attempts as McNeill potted the only goal.
Rookies, Elliott Peterson (2a) and Austin Calladine (1a) both recorded their first career WHL point, assisting on Virtanen’s second period marker, while Zane Jones had a two-helper performance.
Both the Raiders and the Hitmen have come out of the WHL chutes strong with each team topping their respective division.
Calgary next sees home action on Sunday, October 7 when they host the Edmonton Oil Kings at 2pm.