Raiders' snipers eye playoffs

SCOTT FISHER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

A month ago, the Prince Albert Raiders looked like they were done.

Another spring without post-season hockey seemed a certainty for the hockey-mad Saskatchewan community.

Not any more.

The Raiders have rattled off eight wins in their last 10 games, with their only two losses coming at the hands of the CHL's top-ranked Calgary Hitmen.

Two overagers -- Justin Bernhardt and Ryan McDonald -- have been leading the resurgence.

GM/head coach Bruno Campese could have fetched a pretty penny on the open market for either sniper, but as Saturday's WHL trade deadline came and went, both Bernhardt and McDonald remained in Raiders silks.

"We've clawed our way back into the playoff race, and I think it's important for our organization -- after not having a great deal of success last year -- to move forward and give our younger guys the feeling of what a playoff race is like," Campese said.

"Those are two offensive catalysts it would be really hard to live without."

Bernhardt, acquired from the Kelowna Rockets at the beginning of the 2007-08 season, has 23 goals and 65 points, just four points back of league-leader Casey Pierro-Zabotel of the Vancouver Giants.

McDonald leads the team with 25 goals.

"Both Bernhardt and McDonald have been great," Campese said.

"Bernhardt has been very committed this year. He's been extremely focused, and his preparation has been the best that it's ever been.

"He's very determined to try to move on after his junior days are done. He knows his time is limited to showcase his abilities.

"He's been commited on the ice and in the gym. He's worked really hard and finds himself just a couple of points out of leading the league in scoring, and I know that's one of his goals."

Campese decided to put his top two players on the same line, and the results speak for themselves.

"We've put them on a line together, and there seems to be chemistry between the two of them," he said.

"They're different players. Bernhardt is very skilled and can make things happen out of nothing.

"McDonald, if you give him the puck in a certain area, he has a knack for scoring goals."

Bernhardt, from Yorkton, Sask., said he's getting more and more comfortable with his new linemate.

"Even before the break, we started playing together and things started clicking," said the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder.

"Once you get five-six-seven games together, things start clicking even more."

He said he's happy to be sticking around and is looking forward to leading the Raiders into the post-season.

"It's my last year and Ryan's last year, too. So to get into the playoffs and make a run is exactly what we both want."

McDonald, who started his WHL career with the Regina Pats, is just as happy to stay in P.A., his home town.

"We had a little taste (of the playoffs) two years ago after I was traded here," McDonald said. "Coming to the rink when it's playoff time, Prince Albert is just nuts. When you get 3,500 people in that rink, it's like getting 10,000 (at the Saddledome). The rink is small, and the fans get really into it.

"It's a crazy place to play. The whole city backs the team.

"I'm a P.A. boy, and we're P.A.'s team, so when we're playing good, everyone in the community couldn't be happier.

"When you're playing bad, everyone has their opinion as to what you could do better.

"If we make the playoffs, it'll bring back hockey to P.A."


Videos

Photos