The Canadian Hockey League might think the Moose Jaw Warriors are the fifth-best team in Canada heading into the regular season, but the Prince Albert Raiders had other ideas on opening night Friday in Prince Albert.
The Raiders scored three goals in just under five minutes to open the third period and rode a stellar showing from goaltender Max Hildebrand to take a 4-0 victory over the Warriors in Western Hockey League action, the first game of the 2023-24 campaign for both teams.
The Raiders had the early momentum, with a pair of power plays to thank for it, but were unable to beat Jackson Unger in the opening 20 minutes.
Prince Albert’s Ryder Ritchie had the best look on the first man advantage, with his shot from the right face-off circle going off the crossbar. Moose Jaw’s Atley Calvert had a decent chance of his own on the Warriors second power play of the game, but Hildebrand would get the better of the goalmouth scramble.
Both teams had opportunities in the first 10 minutes of the second, and Prince Albert would capitalise.
Justin Christensen did the honours, taking advantage of the Raiders’ third power play of the game to get a shot off from the point that found its way through traffic, went off the post and in at 10:29 of the period.
Prince Albert almost made it 2-0 seconds later when another shot from the point slipped through Unger, but Brady Ness was in the right place at the right time to swipe the puck off the goalline.
Pavel McKenzie nearly tied the game with 1:14 to play in the second period, but put a two-on-one opportunity with Lynden Lakovic off the crossbar and had the rebound just bounce free.
The Raiders did get their second goal 28 seconds into the third. Ritchie’s initial shot in close was stopped by Unger, but the rebound skipped to the side of the net and Aiden Oiring lifted the puck into the open net.
Only 1:30 later. It was 3-0, with Krysztof Macias finding himself alone in front of Unger and slamming the puck in five-hole. The Raiders then scored their third goal in 4:46 to open the period, with Ritchie finishing off a two-on one by ripping a shot top shelf blocker side.
The Warriors had a chance to snap Hildebrand’s shutout with a power play with four minutes to play but would only manage a single scoring chance as the penalty expired.
Hildebrand finished with 28 saves to earn the first shutout in the WHL this season, while Prince Albert had 47 shots on Unger, including a lopsided third period where they outshot the Warriors 23-4.
The Warriors are back in action on Saturday night for their home opener when they take on the Brandon Wheat Kings. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Moose Jaw Events Centre.