Watching games from the press box is one of the hardest things to ask of an athlete, especially when his team is losing.
In his gameday suits, Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Harrison Ruopp missed the last seven games for the Raiders, seeing his team win just two of them going 2-4-1-0 in that span and lose their WHL East Division lead to the Saskatoon Blades.
But Ruopp was back in the lineup Wednesday in a 3-1 win over the Swift Current Broncos, helped his team reclaim the division lead and was named the game’s second star.
It only took him about 10 seconds to get involved, obliterating Broncos forward Chance Lund at the Raider blueline, and later knocked the 6’5 Lund to the ice with one punch in a fight later in the period.
“It was amazing to get back in the lineup, it’s always tough when you’re injured and sitting on the sidelines and watching your team play,” said Ruopp. “It’s even harder when you’re watching your team lose.
“It was great to get in and do my part and help us be successful.”
Ruopp’s presence helped keep the shots down Tuesday as Raiders goaltender Luke Siemens faced just 26 shots, stopping all but one in the game. Prior to the game, Siemens faced 40 shots or more in five of his last seven starts.
“If anybody knows (Ruopp), he’s a competitor and he’s here to win,” said head coach Steve Young. “He plays an aggressive game and I think for him, we wanted to be sure when he came back he was 100 per cent healthy.
“He’s a big part of our club, he’s a leader.”
Another huge factor in neutralizing the Broncos attack was making sure they were matched up against Broncos captain Adam Lowry, who leads all Eastern Conference players in points with 74 and tied for the lead in goals with 36.
Lowry was held pointless as Raiders captain Mark McNeill moved into the centre position to match up with him, while Young also put Raiders defensive specialist Shane Danyluk on the right wing to help stymie the Broncos top offensive option.
“I thought if we could get those two (McNeill and Lowry) going head-to-head as much as we could, it was going to benefit us,” said Young. “They’re both big body players. With Shane, he’s got that defensive instinct that helps as well.”
On the Broncos side, they played in their fifth game in sixth nights but didn’t blame the tough part of their schedule for the loss, rather a less than par third period.
“The energy was lacking a little bit, but that wasn’t any reason,” said Broncos head coach Mark Lamb, whose team was outshot 13-3 in the third. “The third period was very disappointing, we couldn’t get anything. We didn’t have a lot of will to end that game, that’s why they won.”
The Raiders got all three of their goals from their two European imports, as German rookie Leon Draisaitl lead the way with a pair and Norwegian second-year Jonas Knutsen had the other.
Draisaitl scored on a highlight reel goal in the first period, delivering a perfect saucer to Dakota Conroy in the neutral zone, who deked out Broncos defenceman Richard Nedomlel before returning the puck cross-crease to Draisaitl. Draisaitl now has 44 points on the year and is one point back of the leaders, Portland’s Oliver Bjorkstrand and Seattle’s Roberts Lipsbergs who share the lead with 45 points.
Knutsen’s goal came just 23 seconds after Colby Cave had tied the game in the second period for the Broncos.
Broncos Finnish import Eetu Laurikainen made 26 saves on 29 Raider shots.
The Raiders will host the Moose Jaw Warriors Saturday, hoping to exact revenge on Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Warriors on the road.
On Twitter: @jeff_dandrea
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