Drews Diatribe

 Former Rockets rockin’ it with the Raiders

      - Drew Wilson, January 12th 2015

A collective sigh of relief went through the Raider bus at 1pm Saturday on its way to Regina, when no one was called up to the front to be told they were traded. However it was a month of significant change in the Raider dressing room leading to the January 10th trade deadline.

There are six new name plates in the Raider dressing room, four have been installed in their new homes and the team has landed four additional draft choices, one in each of the first four rounds.

The two blockbuster trades with Kelowna have garnered the most attention and rightfully so. While other league general managers praised Raider GM Bruno Campese for the Josh Morrissey trade, many fans, armchair and otherwise were critical of its lack of a first round draft choice. The timing of the trade was dictated by Morrissey’s pending unavailability because of the World Junior championships and the recent long term injuries to top four defensemen Sawyer Lange and Hunter Warner.

The addition of Jessie Lees and Austin Glover (as well as 2nd and 3rd round draft choices) has helped. Lees has produced 7 points in 11 games and has quarterbacked an improving first power play unit. Glover’s game is rounding into shape as he looks fully recovered from an injury. The 18-year-old winger been named third star in consecutive games while scoring in each. He also made a win saving shot-block in the dying seconds Saturday night in Regina.

 Anonymous on-line critics who panned the Leon Draisaitl deal calling Kris Schmidli and Dalton Yorke castoff fringe players who couldn’t cut it in Kelowna will continue to hide in cybersace as opposed to those who have the courage to put their names next to their comments. Anyone who has seen them play have witnessed their immediate impact. Yorke plays a physical stay-at-home game on the backline and doesn’t not hesitate to defend team mates. As for Schmidli..Holy Hannah this kid can play! Schmidli’s flu-ridden debut Wednesday against Moose Jaw was pretty good. The two games since? A pair of performances primed by dirty dangles at high speed that netted three goals and three assists, including an unassisted shorthanded goal and the setup of Glover’s shorty in Regina. Schmidli who paid tribute to the former Raider logo by gripping his stick in his teeth after his first goal in a Prince Albert uniform, is also a star in front of the microphone with a quick wit behind a huge smile.

Colton Heffley started the Kelowna exodus to the Raiders with his acquisition during the B.C. road trip.  The overage defenseman has added stability and grit to the Raider blue line.

Considering he is the only former Rocket ineligible to return next season you can safely say the deals involving Draisaitl (who wasn’t coming back), Morrissey (who will be a pro next season), and Gage Quinney (who could return to Kelowna as an overager) has enhanced the near future of the Raiders, because if you look at the lineup eligible to come back, you can see the potential for a pretty good hockey team. The longer term will be depend on the performance of the General Manager and scouring staff at the draft table.

It will take several seasons to fully examine the work of Bruno Campese leading up to the trade deadline, but you can safely say, based on what we have seen on the ice …so far…so good. However those looking to find fault will find a way. They always do

 Memorable First Half? A Huge Understatement

      - Drew Wilson, December 18th 2014

Recapping the notable from the Raiders first half of the season could rival the Harry Potter series for the number of story lines.

The controversy began with the early season defection of overage winger Dakota Conroy who according to former head coach Cory Clouston was unhappy with his line mates. The former 30 goal man left with 1 goal and 1 assist in 10 games. Conroy departed after the team decided to trade Centreman Calder Brooks who has flourished in Spokane. Conroy and defenseman Sawyer Lange were overage locks heading into the 20-year-old deadline, meaning the final decision came down to Brooks and Jayden Hart. You can't argue with the decision to keep Hart who is tied for the team lead with 17 goals to go along with 13 assists as a true power forward who can play both wing and centre.

An impressive 5-0 win in Kootenay one night followed by an equally unimpressive 5-2 loss in Lethbridge the next night was the type of inconsistency that cost Clouston his job . Enter Marc Habscheid who has loosened the reigns on defensemen to jump into rushes and play a more puck possession game.

There has been a four game home ice losing streak, a five game win streak and a league high seven game run of success on the road, followed by a five game slide to close out the longest and most arduous road trip in the last several years of Raider hockey That foray into futility featured three straight shutout losses including back to back 1-0 setbacks despite outshooting and out chancing Kelowna and Victoria respectively. Then there were the three trades that saw the additions of four players including the blockbuster. Captain Josh Morrissey and Gage Quinney said their emotional goodbye's to team mates following the Vancouver game and after 13 hours through a blizzard, freezing rain and fog along curve filled two-lane highways in B.C. the remaining Raiders met new team mates Jesse Lees and Austin Glover in Cranbook at about 11:30 in the evening before their next game. The true assessment of the deal can't be made for at least two seasons. Lees and Glover are good additions as his overage defenseman/forward Coltan Heffley. Raymond Grewal has played well in his two appearances. These deals were influenced at least in part by the injuries to d-men Hunter Warner and Lange. Warner is gone for the season, Lange won't be back for at least a month. When he does return a decision will have to be made on the blueline suggesting more deals are at least a good possibility.

 There were several opportunities to panic and make changes to systems, styles and the new approach to the game but Habscheid remained patient calling it a process and more importantly remained positive through a very adverse period.

The Raiders closed out the first half with a solid 5-1 win over Moose Jaw in front of less than 22-hundred at the Art Hauser Centre who got a bit of everything including a final minute line brawl.

The fact the Raiders still have a chance at a playoff spot amid this challenge ridden first 35 games is reason for encouragement in itself and the schedule becomes much more friendly in the new year.

This is a team that plays with pace and tempo that can exhilarate you on one shift and frustrate you during the next, but isn't that what Junior hockey is all about? Regardless of the outcome what we can say for sure is there has been no questioning the effort under the Raiders new regime and that's really all any coach, media member or fan can ask for.        

 Raiders hope to get into a "Habby" of winning

      - Drew Wilson, November 6th 2014

Marc Habscheid has started assume the reigns as head coach of the Prince Albert Raiders. The new bench boss has been taking a crash course in Raider hockey since his arrival Saturday morning and is tweaking the systems that have been in place since the beginning of the season. Despite Wednesday night's 4-2 loss to Calgary the early reviews are good. If not for two goals posts and two cross bars the the Raiders could be celebrating a third straight win. The effort was there and Habscheid told the 900 CKBI post game audience they will work on the mistakes made while executing a new puck control high tempo game plan.

The team won in his debut (Saturday's 5-2 win over Saskatoon) overcoming the turmoil of a coaching change as well as a fourth game in five nights with over 750 mile of bus travel mixed in. Habscheid's positive outlook and personality with an affinity for humor is also an early hit with staff, players, fans and the media.

Habscheid's persona presents a stark contrast to outgoing head coach Cory Clouston. There is no questioning Clouston's work ethic and desire to win. On game day he was all business with intensity and focus. However it appears his approach didn't connect with the players who performed inconsistently through Clouston's tenure. As someone who has been fired, I can tell you it is a kick in the gut and even though WHL hockey is a performance based business, it doesn't minimize the human factor even though fans all over the hockey world constantly clamor for the canning of their respective coaches.

 Cory Clouston was a different person on off days. He spoke often about his family as well as topics like music and boxing and is passionate about personal fitness. He could also smile and crack a joke contrary to the impression held and expressed by many including those who never met him. However, the team's inconsistent play and waning confidence from a vocal portion of the fan base who expressed their dissatisfaction by staying away from the Art Hauser Centre at a time when the team just announced a significant financial loss for last season, leaving the board with little choice but to make the move.

The Raiders responded by winning impressively in Moose Jaw, turning an early 2-0 deficit into a 6-3 victory in a rink (Mosaic place) that has not been kind to them over the past few seasons. Make no mistake, the players won that game for Dave Manson, who was interim head coach for that game only. The proof is the players left the Trojan like helmet for the game's most valuable contributor at Manson's spot on the bus before the ride home. Dave promptly gave it back to the players.  They were also very good the next night against the Blades. The crowd (2440) was an improvement over recent games, but not nearly good enough for a Saturday night against the Raiders biggest rival. The same can be said for the crowd of just over 22-hundred on Wednesday against the Hitmen. It's time for those who sincerely called for Clouston's firing as a condition to return to the rink to come back. Others will find any reason possible to continue to allegedly boycott Raider games while spouting their self professed hockey expertise.  

It is still the honeymoon period in the Habscheid era and there will be adversity, we saw evidence of that against Calgary, but the team is playing intense, physical, high tempo entertaining hockey and isn't that what it's all about?          

 Morrissey Sent Back - The Right Move

     - Drew Wilson, October 6th 2014

The Winnipeg Jets did the responsible thing by sending Raider captain Josh Morrissey back to Prince Albert. There were valid arguments for both keeping the Calgary Kid in the NHL and sending him back to Junior.

Morrissey posted 72 points in 59 games last season including a franchise record 28 goals. He also put up 2 goals and 7 assists in the 20 game AHL playoff run to the league final by the St John’s Ice Dogs. Throw in his experience playing for Canada at the World Junior championships and you could justify keeping Morrissey in the show considering he is sporting a bigger and stronger body to go along with a ton of skill.

However instead of spot duty and some nights in the NHL press boxes, the Jets have opted for the chance to have Morrissey continue to develop through about 30 minutes of ice time a game in all situations. Morrissey said upon arriving back in PA he will continue to work on the attributes that made him the 13th overall pick by the Jets in the 2013 NHL draft, namely a fleet of foot and fast puck moving game while quarterbacking the power play and anchoring the penalty kill.

 Morrissey is disappointed, who wouldn’t be. Playing in the NHL is his dream and let’s not forget the $925,000 rookie salary as opposed to the WHL stipend. But money is not the issue. The Raider captain is his own worst critic and focused on improving every day knowing that is the fastest route back to the NHL. Morrissey is excited to see his Raider team mates and knows it won’t be long until he gets another chance to wear the Team Canada Jersey at the World Junior championships in Toronto and Montreal.

Josh also learned last season that a return back from the NHL doesn’t mean automatic domination of the game at the junior level. It may be a far cry from the NHL but play at the dub level is still very high and Josh learned that at times last season when he tried to do too much.

There has never been any doubt about Josh Morrissey’s skill and intelligence. His increasing strength and resolve to play in the NHL as early as next season will mean more wins for the Raiders, but the real winners will be the fans who get to watch arguably the best defenseman in the WHL and one of the best players in franchise history for one more season.          

 

 

Bums in the Seats; The Best Solution

       - Drew Wilson, October 1st 2014

First of all, 2.395 simply is not good enough.

That was the attendance for last Saturday’s 4-3 Raider loss to Regina at the Art Hauser Centre.

While staff and fans were contemplating what went wrong on the ice that night, team staff was bracing for the annual general meeting just two nights later, knowing they would be revealing a substantial financial loss for the 2013-14 season.

The number was a shocker, $210-thousand when you compare expenses with revenue and $262,680 when you add in depreciation of assets

General Manager Bruno Campese told Tuesday night’s 900 CKBI audience tuning in to a special edition of “face-off”, they knew they were in trouble when an unfavorable schedule was released by the WHL last June. By then the budget had been struck with little room to trim from an already lean document. The opportunity to make a few extra dollars faded last spring when the Raiders were swept by the eventual Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings in the first round of the playoffs as basically all you do with only two home playoff dates is pay the expenses of the first round. The team also was left with a large part the bill incurred with the tie breaker game in Red Deer and three extra days in Alberta leading up to the Oil King series.

The  wonky schedule derived by the league’s first crack at going the computer route instead of the acrimonious annual day long debate of GM’s, was responsible in part for a decrease of about 170  fans per game on average. Add in spin-off spending and that translates to a hit of around $175-thousand.  The team is hoping a schedule with many more weekend dates will help turn that situation around.

And they will need more walk-up ticket sales since season subscriber numbers came close, but fell short of the goal of 1.650.

The team is also hoping a revamped game night experience will help attract young adults, a demographic missing from the Art Hauser Centre on game nights. The organization is working hard toward making 2013-14 an expensive one year blip on the radar, but ultimately it’s up to fans to respond by finding reasons to come to games instead of staying away.

Campese points out expenses will continue to rise meaning at some point, maybe by the end of the decade, even a sold out Art Hauser Centre every night won’t generate enough cash to make ends meet, therefore the need for a new arena whether it’s stand alone or part of a multi-use facility.

However the future is now. With 34 home games remaining, this team needs more fans to meet a 2014-15 budget of around 2.1 million dollars.