- 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?
- 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.
- 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.