Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Raiders will still be a team to be reckoned with in WHL

The Raiders captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup last season.
    Don’t expect the Prince Albert Raiders to have a great fall.
    Going into the 2019-20 WHL regular season, the Raiders will be hard pressed to duplicate their exploits from last season, where they finished first overall in the regular season standings and captured the WHL title for second time in team history.
    Of course, the Raiders claimed the WHL title winning what will go down as one of the circuit’s all-time greatest games and arguably the most memorable moment at the Art Hauser Centre.
    That great game was of course Game 7 of the WHL final, were Dante Hannoun scored the overtime winner to give the Raiders a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants on May 13. It was a moment that could power the Raiders and their fans on adrenaline for some time.
    Both ensured the WHL title trophy the Ed Chynoweth Cup saw lots of different sites this past summer.
Cole Fonstad will be a key returnee for the Raiders.
    Last season, the Raiders rekindled their storied past and lived up to the image of being the team of Mike Modano and Dave Manson – the franchise where honour still matters.
    In the previous 13 campaigns before winning the league crown and appearing in the CHL championship tournament – the Memorial Cup, the Raiders missed the playoffs seven times and were eliminated in the first round six times.
    Still, the Raiders roster will not be the same as a season ago and is filled with a number of significant departures.
    Gone are overage forwards Hannoun, Noah Gregor and Sean Montgomery, who put up big seasons. Netminder Ian Scott, import defenceman Sergei Sapego and forwards Brett Leason and Parker Kelly could potentially return as overagers, but all four are highly expected to play in the professional ranks.
    Scott and Sapego are part the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs system, Leason is with the Washington Capitals system and Kelly with the Ottawa Senators system. Last season, Scott captured individual honours as WHL goaltender of the year and CHL goaltender of the year.
    While the departures are significant, it is wise to expect the Raiders will still hit the ice with a good team that will cause the other 21 clubs in the WHL headaches.
    Unlike the Swift Current Broncos, who won the WHL title in the 2017-18 season, and the Regina Pats, who hosted the Memorial Cup in that campaign, the Raiders won’t be skating through a lame duck season.
Ozzy Wiesblatt looks to build on a solid 16-year-old rookie season.
    The Broncos and Pats sold the farm to ice older and more experienced teams in the 2017-18 campaign giving up young prospects and high WHL Bantam Draft picks in trades. It would have taken a miracle for either club to have clinched a playoff berth last season undergoing major rebuilds.
    The Broncos finished last in the entire league at 11-51-4-2. The Pats were third last in the WHL at 19-45-1-3.
    The Raiders didn’t sell the farm for their special campaign in 2018-19, where they posted an impressive 54-10-2-2 record to capture the Scott Munro Memorial Trophy for topping the WHL standings.
    General manager Curtis Hunt and head coach Marc Habscheid are back with new multi-year contracts. Hunt was named the WHL’s executive of the year and Habscheid was the WHL’s coach of the year last season.
    As long as Hunt and Habscheid are at the helm, the Raiders franchise will be in good hands. Even reloading seasons will feel like the team accomplished a lot and will likely include a playoff berth.
    In the 2016-17 season when the Raiders posted a 21-44-5-2 mark finished third last in the WHL, they built with a young core group of eight players that all played big parts in last season’s league championship including Montgomery, Scott, Kelly, Brayden Pachal, Zack Hayes, Cole Fonstad, Spencer Moe and Max Martin.
The Raiders faithful love to make rivals feel welcome.
    Fonstad, Moe and Martin are back with the team. Pachal is in camp with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights and Hayes is at the NHL training camp of the Anaheim Ducks as unsigned free agents.
    Both could be back as overagers and would be in the mix for three 20-year-old spots along with Martin and Jeremy Masella. WHL clubs have until Oct. 10 to cut down to three overage players.
    The players from that core group will provide a foundation, and they will be starting to hand over the torch to the upcoming generation that will strive to keep building on the Raiders storied history.
    The youngsters include a trio of players that jumped to the forefront last year season as 16-year-old rookies in forwards Ozzy Wiesblatt and Jakob Brook along with rearguard Kaiden Guhle.
    All three are ready for bigger roles as 17-year-olds and will be ready to pick up some of the offence that was lost from the club’s graduating stars.
    Defenceman Nolan Allen and forward Tyson Laventure are 16-year-old rookies who appear to be destined for great things in their WHL careers.
    The Raiders are expecting import winger Aliaksei Protas to be assigned back to the club from the NHL’s Washington Capitals for a sophomore campaign as an 18-year-old. Russian centre Ivan Kechkin takes the Raiders other import spot, and he comes to the team with a lot of potential.
    Prince Albert’s staff is high that 18-year-old netminder Boston Bilous will recover the star form he had coming up through the minor hockey ranks in his third season in the WHL.
Pals - Parker Kelly (#27) and Brayden Pachal (#8).
    Of course, the Raiders will have the Art Hauser Centre faithful behind them every step of the way as the team has sold over 2,000 season tickets in the 2,580 seat iconic facility. The faithful will do their part to back the Raiders and remind opponents when they are having an off day.
    The Raiders open their season when they host their archrivals the Saskatoon Blades on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. You can expect that outing to have an atmosphere that is similar to a playoff clash.
    At the moment, it would be hard to expect the Raiders to duplicate what they did a season ago, and they will likely take a step backwards. If you underestimate them and do not believe they will still be a solid team, those opposing clubs will likely be in for a big surprise.

Ridley chases 4,000 games as Tigers play-by-play voice

Bob Ridley is approaching 4,000 games as the Tigers play-by-play voice
    Medicine Hat Tigers play-by-play voice Bob Ridley will always be “The Dean” of WHL broadcasters, and he is chasing a milestone that no hockey broadcaster may ever hit again.
    As the storied Tigers embark on their 50th anniversary season, Ridley will be chasing down his 4,000th call as the team’s play-by-play voice. The 75-year-old has been the only play-by-play voice in the club’s history.
    Ridley also drove the Tigers team bus for most of that stretch too.
    Going into the 2019-20 campaign, Ridley has called 3,935 of the club’s 3,936 games. That tally includes action in the regular season, standings tiebreaker games, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament.
    Ridley has called 3,503 of the Tigers 3,504 regular season games, the one standings tiebreaker game the club has appeared in, all of their 411 games in the WHL playoffs and all 20 of their contests in the Memorial Cup.
The Tigers are embarking on their 50th anniversary season.
    The Tigers open their 50th anniversary season on Friday, when they travel to Lethbridge to take on the Hurricanes. That will be 3,936th game Ridley calls as the Tigers play-by-play voice.
    If Ridley doesn’t miss any contests, he will call his 4,000th game on Saturday, March 14, 2020, when the Tigers host the Swift Current Broncos at the Canalta Centre at 7:30 p.m. local time.
    Over the summer, I have double checked Ridley’s numbers a couple of times, and the totals I have come up with are correct. I had been following Ridley’s game called total for a number of years, and I admit I always have a fear I will get the timing of the 4,000th game wrong.
    I am pretty certain a number of Tigers alums are going to want to make his 4,000th game, and I did not want to mess up the alums travel plans.
    With all that said, no one has called more games as the play-by-play voice of one hockey team than Ridley has. If you called 80 games a season between the regular season and playoffs and did that for 49 campaigns, you would still fall short of Ridley’s current games called total.
    In my books, he should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a 4,000th call I think would make it hard to keep him out.

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