Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Dream 31-2-0-1 start beyond imagination of WHL’s Raiders

P.A. aims to keep building great memories in second half

Sean Montgomery, left, and the Raiders enjoyed a spectacular first half.
    There are lots of times the Prince Albert Raiders don’t believe their 31-2-0-1 regular season record is real.
    After going 32-27-9-4 last season and falling in 5-4 in Game 7 of a hard-fought playoff series with the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Raiders felt they would be good in 2018-19 returning a veteran roster.
    They did not expect to be leading the entire WHL with a 31-2-0-1 regular season record along with being rated first in the CHL Top 10 rankings for most of the first half of the 2018-19 campaign.
    At the moment, the Raiders are the only team in the entire CHL to have won 30 or more games to this point in the season. The Everett Silvertips, who are second overall in the WHL at 27-7-1-1, are the next closest team in the CHL to hitting the 30-win plateau.
Raiders scoring leader Brett Leason is on Canada’s world junior team. 
    Raiders overage right-winger Noah Gregor, who is second in team scoring with 19 goals and 24 assists, admits it is crazy to think about the record his team has.
    “Over the break, you can have a little time to actually think about it and how great of a start it is for us and how great of a first half it is,” said Gregor. “These guys have been playing unbelievable, and we have a lot of guys that you know are having really good seasons and are getting a lot of spotlight on them and that is awesome.
    “I think we are going to continue that into the second half.”
    The players that have enjoyed the biggest spotlights so far have been 19-year-old right-winger Brett Leason and 19-year-old goaltender Ian Scott, who are both playing for Canada at the world junior championship tournament that started today in Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.
Netminder Ian Scott is playing for Canada at world juniors.
    Leason is enjoying an incredible breakout season leading the Raiders in scoring with 28 goals and 36 assists for 64 points.
    Even with having missed time due to being at the training camp for Canada’s world junior team, Leason is still second in WHL league scoring holding an edge over Edmonton Oil Kings star Trey Fix-Wolansky, who has 21 goals and 43 assists for 64 points, due to having more goals.
     All of Leason’s offensive numbers are career highs, and he is a plus-44 in the plus-minus department.
    Scott is enjoying a spectacular season with the Raiders posting a 23-2-1 record, a 1.61 goals against average, a .943 save percentage and four shutouts. He leads the WHL in save percentage and shutouts and has the lowest goals against average on the circuit.
    As a team, the Raiders have scored the most goals in the WHL (165) and have allowed the fewest (70). On the power play, the Raiders have scored on 32-of-135 chances for a 23.7 per cent success rate to sit ninth in the league.
Overage C Sean Montgomery is third in Raiders team scoring.
    They have the top penalty killing unit in the WHL allowing 17 goals on 162 power-play chances for an 89.5 per cent kill rate.
    “We probably weren’t expecting it to be this good at the start of the year,” said career Raider and overage centre Sean Montgomery, who is third in team scoring with 16 goals and 19 assists. “We knew we were a good team.
    “It has been great. We are having tonne of fun, and we just want to keep it going after the break here.”
    While the Raiders won’t have Leason or Scott to start the second half of the season, they will get back rookie 17-year-old import centre Aliaksei Protas and 19-year-old import defenceman Sergei Sapego, who were both representing Belarus at the world junior division 1, group A tournament that wrapped up Dec. 15 in Fussen, Germany.
Overage RW Noah Gregor is second in Raiders team scoring.
    Currently, the Raiders have nine players who have recorded 23 or more points this season. Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said one of the keys to success for his team is the fact everyone factors in at different times to help the community-owned franchise win.
    “We’re a team,” said Habscheid. “I think that is our biggest strength is we are a team, and different guys step up on different nights.
    “We don’t want to be a one-dimensional team. We want to be able to play physical or fast or however they want to play it. We also want other guys throughout the lineup to help.
    “Whether it one guy one night or another guy another night, it makes it difficult to defend. Every player on our team is important.”
    Fans in Prince Albert and area have also jumped on board to enjoy the run. Over 16 home dates so far this season, the Raiders are averaging 2,514 spectators at the 2,580 seats Art Hauser Centre.
Mascot Riley the Raider has fun with a young fan at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Attendance pushes into standing room often, and supporters have seen the Raiders win all 16 of their home games so far.
    “It has been incredible this year,” said Montgomery. “The fans have been great.
    “That obviously gives us a big energy boost. It has been lots of fun at home this year.”
    Habscheid said it has been big for the Raiders players to play in front of big groups. The long time veteran bench boss said the team gets a boost every time from that sight and especially when the club returns after a long road trips, which have been successful this season. The Raiders are 15-2-0-1 on the road.
Sergei Sapego is part of a solid Raiders defensive unit.
    Habscheid said he knows people have lots of other options when it comes to where they spend their free time or their entertainment dollars, so the Raiders take it to heart when fans spend their evenings at the rink with them.
    “It is nice that the people come out and support us,” said Habscheid. “Our guys have played hard.
    “We think they are pretty good citizens, and we’re playing pretty well. It is fun to come out, and it helps them with a full building for sure.”
    The Raiders return to action from their Christmas break on Thursday, when they travel to Saskatoon to face their archrivals the Blades (21-10-4) at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. 
Max Martin and the Raiders salute the Art Hauser Centre faithful.
    The Raiders host the Blades on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.

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