Saturday, 11 May 2019

Prince Albert Raiders are more than just a hockey team

The Raiders celebrate their Game 2 win in this year’s WHL final.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - Could you ever imagine the city of Prince Albert without the Raiders?
    What would it be like if Reg Martsinkiw wasn’t able to schmooze and sell the concept of bringing a junior franchise to Prince Albert to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League office in the summer of 1971?
    Martsinkiw’s pitch allowed the Raiders to be born and join the junior A ranks.
    Martsinkiw, who was the Raiders first president, sold the SJHL on the new community-owned team for a franchise fee of $2,000 as the arena that would house the club was still under construction. That rink was first known as the Comuniplex and is now know as the Art Hauser Centre.
    The Raiders wouldn’t play their first regular season game in their home rink until Dec. 12, 1971 when the 1971-72 campaign was well under way.
The Raiders first Centennial Cup winning team.
    The club would move up to the major junior ranks joining the WHL in 1982.
    Since they were founded back in 1971, the Raiders have become to Prince Albert what the NHL’s Maple Leafs are to Toronto, the Oilers are to Edmonton, what the CFL’s Roughriders are to the province of Saskatchewan, the Rocky Mountains to Banff or what skiing is to Jasper. They are all important attractions to their respective communities.
    Without them, it wouldn’t be the same. It would feel like something important is missing.
    Could you ever imagine not hearing “The Song in Prince Albert is Go Raiders Go” echoing through the inside of “the Hauser.”
    The Raiders have become etched in the psyche of Prince Albert. As they finish up their 48th season of play, the Raiders in a lot of ways have become the face of the town.
The Raiders faithful cheer one of their team’s goals in the playoffs.
    In their half century of existence, they have carved their place in junior hockey helping countless kids make the NHL. Along the way, they won the Centennial Cup four times as national junior A champions and captured the Memorial Cup for national major junior supremacy in 1985.
    Currently, they are trying to win their first WHL title and return to the Memorial Cup tournament for the first time since that special 1984-85 campaign.
    Kids in “Hockey Town North” grow up dreaming of playing for the Raiders. In past days playing games of pick up street hockey, they were Alvin Moore, Theran Welsh, Dave Manson or Mike Modano. These days, they are Ian Scott, Brett Leason, Parker Kelly, Noah Gregor or captain Brayden Pachal.
    For players like Calgary, Alta., product Sean Montgomery, Prince Albert has become like a second home.
A little road hockey action before a Raiders home game.
    Since joining the Raiders as a 16-year-old rookie in 2014-15, Montgomery has skated in a team record 345 career regular season games with the Raiders representing the city with pride.
    Players like overager Dante Hannoun, who arrived in a trade on Jan. 3, quickly become fan favourites.
    The Raiders are a lot of things. They are the players past, present and future that come through their dressing room to carry their proud tradition of being the franchise “where honour still matters.”
    They are Ron Boskill, Lennie Hicks, Mike Kindrachuk, Willie Friesen, Ron Delorme, Darcy Regier, Brad McCrimmon, Glenn White, James Patrick, Warren Harper, Dave Tippett, Mark Odnokon, Bob Lowes, Dan Hodgson, Dave Pasin, Emanuel Viveiros, Steve Gotaas, Ken Baumgartner, Pat Elynuik, Darin Kimble, Dean McAmmond, Jeff Nelson, Denis Pederson, Darren Van Impe, Shane Willis, Chris Phillips, Evan Lindsay, Scott Hartnell, Nick Schultz, Grant McNeill, Luke Fritshaw, Jeremy Colliton, Rejean Beauchemin, Seth Leonard, Kyle Chipchura, Dane Byers, Travis Young, Chris Schlenker, Mike Gauthier, Ryan McDonald, Harrison Ruopp, Josh Morrissey, Leon Draisaitl, Reid Gardiner and Adam Herold.
The Raiders 1985 Memorial Cup championship team.
    Countless other names of players can be thrown on this list.
    The Raiders are the numerous great coaches that have shaped the team’s character. The top of the list is legendary head coach and general manager Terry Simpson, who guided all five of the Raiders national championship teams.
    The list includes Alf Poulin, Rick Wilson, Mike Fedorko and Kevin McClelland.
    As both player and a head coach, Peter Anholt will always be the people’s choice to be captain or head coach.
    Donn Clark, who recently passed of cancer in March, is receiving his due being remembered fondly for pouring his heart and soul into the team as a player, head coach and general manager. He had a big hand in helping the Raiders appear in the league semifinals in 1995 and “The Run” in 2005.
Sean Montgomery is a career heart and soul member of the Raiders.
    Current general manager and former captain Curtis Hunt and current head coach Marc Habscheid along with late director of player personnel Ron Gunville, who passed away last December, have delivered the Raiders to the special season they are currently enjoying. They have returned the club to its romanticized storied tradition.
    The Raiders are the masses of their passionate fans who pack into the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre over 3,000 strong often standing on top of milk crates to see the action on the ice.
    They are diehards like the late Calla Grasley best know as “Grandma Raider,” who cheered for her boys through thick and thin.
    In their team history, the Raiders have had their tougher times like the 13-year stretch from 2006 to 2018 when they missed the playoffs seven times and were eliminated in the first round six times. They have also been brilliant posting a record of 57 wins and three losses in their final SJHL regular season before moving on to capture their final Centennial Cup.
    The brilliance includes the 1984-85 WHL championship and Memorial Cup winning season where the Raiders topped the WHL regular season with a record of 58 wins, 11 losses and three ties.
The Raiders team from “The Run” in 2005.
    To put that in perspective, the Saskatoon Blades have been in the WHL since it was founded in 1966 and have never won a Memorial Cup or a league championship.
    (*Right now, a few Raiders fans will have the urge to play the Guess Who’s “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon.”*)
    The Regina Pats are the oldest major junior franchise in the world dating back to 1917, and they have won the Memorial Cup three times since their founding with the last title coming in 1974.
    It is possible that the toughest place to win a national championship is junior hockey, because you only have your players for about three years. For the current Raiders, the dream is alive in their eyes.
    The last time the Raiders were this close to returning to the Memorial Cup tournament was 1995. 
    They dropped a 5-1 decision in a series deciding Game 7 to the Wheat Kings in Brandon in a league semifinal series.
The Raiders salute the faithful at the Art Hauser Centre.
Had the Raiders won that game, they would have been in the Memorial Cup as the tournament hosting Kamloops Blazers had advanced to the WHL final.
    At the moment, the Raiders are only in the WHL final for the second time in team history holding a 3-2 lead on the Vancouver Giants. The Raiders are looking to close the series out in either Games 6 or 7 held respectively on Sunday and Monday in Prince Albert.
    The Raiders history is ready for a new chapter. These chances are fleeting, when you look at history.
    Wins in the league final and the Memorial Cup tournament would have all the citizens of Prince Albert and area rejoicing, and they would cherish those memories for years to come.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to Special thanks to Alastair Tams for the video of The Song in Prince Albert is Go Raiders Go.
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