|Parker Kelly and the Raiders are rolling early in the current WHL campaign.|
A tune written in the early 1970s by country singer Russ Gurr still describes “Hockey Town North.” Thru good times and bad, you must never underestimate the passion the small northern Saskatchewan community has for its Raiders hockey club.
As this season goes on, it appears that passion will get stoked to new heights as Prince Albert appears set to see the Raiders hockey team they have been dreaming of since “The Run” occurred in 2005.
The master plan of general manager Curtis Hunt and head coach Marc Habscheid is coming to fruition as a core group of players who have been together now for their third season appear ready to really take off.
On Friday in Lethbridge Alta., the Raiders, who are rated fourth in the CHL Top 10 Rankings, posted a convincing 5-1 victory over the host Hurricanes, who are rated third in the CHL Top 10 Rankings, before 3,818 spectators at the Enmax Centre. The win allowed the Raiders to start the season 7-0 to lead the entire Western Hockey League standings in the early part of the 2018-19 regular campaign.
The Hurricanes, who fell to 2-3, provided a formidable test despite their slow start. Lethbridge has advanced to the WHL’s Eastern Conference Championship series in each of the past two years.
In the first period of Friday’s clash, the Hurricanes threw everything including the kitchen sink at the Raiders net but were only able to beat Prince Albert’s star 19-year-old netminder Ian Scott once on 21 shots. The Hurricanes goal came courtesy of overage winger Taylor Ross.
|Ian Scott held the fort early for the Raiders on Friday night.|
From that point, the Raiders took over the contest outshooting the Hurricanes 31-15 over the final 40 minutes. The goals started to come too.
Import defenceman Sergei Sapego tied the contest up at 1-1 at the 6:26 mark of the second. Overage winger Noah Gregor, who returned Tuesday to the Raiders after being in the AHL training camp of the San Jose Barracuda, put the Raiders up 2-1 at the 10:14 mark of the second.
Star winger 18-year-old Cole Fonstad scored 20 seconds into the third period and again at the 2:32 mark of that frame to put the Raiders up 4-1. Gregor sealed the victory with an empty-net goal with 82 seconds to play in the game.
Scott made 35 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Raiders. Sophomore 19-year-old netminder Reece Klassen turned away 35-of-39 shots taking the setback in goal for the Hurricanes.
The Raiders haven’t won a playoff series since 2005. In that campaign, they advanced on a magical run to the Eastern Conference Champion series falling in a tough seven-game set to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
That Raiders team was filled with a roster of characters who had character in Rejean Beauchemin, Dane Byers, Kyle Chipchura, Jeremy Colliton, Luke Fritshaw, Mike Gauthier, Mike Hellyer, Rick Kozak, Jeff May, Brett Novak, Brent Ottmann, Caine Pearpoint, Evan Schafer, Chris Schlenker and Aki Seitsonen.
|Cole Fonstad scored twice for the Raiders on Friday night.|
The Raiders have “the boys” back again as their current roster matches the positive traits possessed by the group that made that last long post-season run. Prince Albert’s current roster containing the likes of Fonstad, Gregor, Zack Hayes, Brett Leason, Parker Kelly, Max Martin, Jeremy Masella, Kody McDonald, Carson Miller, Spencer Moe, Sean Montgomery, captain Brayden Pachal, Eric Pearce, Sapego and Scott.
Last season, this group helped Raiders fans start to dream big dreams again. Playing out of an East Division that was basically a “Group of Death,” the Raiders earned a playoff berth with a 32-27-9-4 record thanks to a nine-game winning streak that occurred near the end of the regular season.
Prince Albert faced the Moose Jaw Warriors, who finished first overall in the WHL with a 52-15-2-3 mark, in a best-of-seven first round series. The Warriors took a 3-1 series lead, but the Raiders battled back with a 5-1 win in Game 5 in Moose Jaw and a 5-4 victory in Game 6 in Prince Albert.
The Raiders held leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in a series deciding Game 7 played in Moose Jaw on April 3. The two sides were locked in a 4-4 tie until Brayden Burke scored the game and series winner with 3:50 to play in the third period for Moose Jaw to give the Warriors a 5-4 victory.
As heartbreaking as that series loss was, the battle the Raiders showed brought back images of the team’s glory days from the time the club was founded as a junior A franchise in the 1971-72 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season.
|Sergei Sapego had the Raiders first goal on Friday night.|
Still, there is caution in big dreams as factors like injuries can derail the campaigns of well-built teams. You also can’t ignore the fact a lot of time has passed since the Raiders last won a playoff series.
As a fan in “Hockey Town North,” you want to dream big, because you can see the passion and heart these current Raiders play with. They are invested in the franchise like the players from the great Raiders teams of the past were.
The first three home games for the Raiders attracted 2,775, 2,117 and 2,117 spectators to the Art Hauser Centre, which seats 2,580 spectators. It will likely be a common site for the crowds to push into standing room territory on a regular basis as the season progresses.
You can bet those spectators will make appearances in opposing team rinks too. With that in mind, the Raiders return to action on Saturday, when they travel to Red Deer to take on the Rebels (4-2).
If this is going to be a magical year for the Raiders, the faithful in Prince Albert should live in the moment and embrace everything now. Even if the big dreams aren’t realized, it is almost a given this Raiders squad will put in a lunch pail effort on a nightly basis to achieve success.
The Raiders players should also live in the moment and embrace the fans as much as possible. When a community appearance comes up, the players should do it. Those interactions will leave a great memory for later on in life.
|The Raiders faithful is ready to enjoy a lot of wins in 2018-19.|
The relationship between the Raiders and their fans is a special one, and when everyone is “all in,” the power of that feeling will give you chills.
Deep down for the fans in Prince Albert, the dream will always be alive like in 1985.
The moment has finally arrived to show Canada once again that the song in Prince Albert is and will always be “Go Raiders Go.”
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