I'll take two drafts please!!!
-Drew Wilson 04/19/11
The draft stock of Mark McNeill continues to rise. The 17-year-old Raider centreman headed into the World Under-18 championships in Germany ranked 14th among North American skaters for this June's NHL draft. Mark was a no brain addition to Team Canada this time around after being left off the Under-18 squad last summer when many scouts thought he should have been on the team. However the OHL based coaching staff was so fixated on their own league the only WHL player on the team was Red Deer's Ryan Nugent Hopkins who happened to score the lone goal in a 1-0 win over the USA in the gold medal game. This team is made up off primarily Major Junior players whose teams either didn't make the playoffs or were knocked out in the first round.
Enough ranting...McNeill's number-14 ranking is a jump of 8 from the mid term selections by NHL Central Scouting. Scouts came to watch McNeill en-mass throughout the season, especially in the second half when he was putting the finishing touches on an 81 point regular season that included 32 goals (23 goals better and a 57 point improvement on his rookie season). McNeill also impressed in the playoffs against Saskatoon. He was matched constantly against Brayden Schenn (the best Junior player in the world), and Marek Viedensky (20 year old Edmonton Oilers prospect) and ended up with 2 goals and 3 assists in addition to a plus-2 rating through the captivating 6 game series against the heavily favoured Blades.
If all of that in addition to his two assists in a pair of Team Canada wins over the Czechs and Finns (5-0 and 5-4 respectively) at the World Championships heading into Monday's game against Norway should continue to at least hold McNeill steady in first round territory.
I also visited with Ryan Button on Thursday. The former Raider defenseman (traded to Seattle in January for winger Charles Wells and a first round import draft pick) was back in Prince Albert to visit with his former billets and others he got to know during 3-and-a-half seasons with the Raiders.
Ryan had 2 goals and 10 assists in his final 25 games in Seattle who failed to make the playoffs (his totals were 5 goals and 30 assists in 69 games). Button admits struggling with consistency after the trade and would have loved the playoff experience as the intensity and pace reached new levels. There is no doubt it would have enhanced his development. However Ryan did experience life at the pro level after the Thunderbirds' season game to an end. He was called up by the Providence Bruins for the final 7 games on their AHL season.
Ryan says unlike junior, he quickly learned mistakes that end up in your net promptly put you on the end of the bench at the pro level. Ryan feels he played well enough to earn a contract with the Boston Bruins organization but must now sit and wait. If he isn't signed before the draft, the third round pick of the Bruins in 2009 will go back into the draft pool.
If so, it would be ironic that the last Raider and the next Raider to be picked in the NHL draft would be eligible in the same year.
Other Raiders in the final NHL Central Scouting North American Rankings were defenseman Harrison Ruopp 102nd (He impressed many scouts in the second half and playoffs as he wasn't even rated at mid term), Todd Fiddler 128th (he improved his ranking by 43 spots finishing the regular season with 17 points in his final 20 games and also scored 3 goals in the playoffs). Austin Connor was 182nd, and leading scorer Jonathan Parker 186th. Eric Williams is ranked 16th among North American Goalies..
The NHL Draft is June 24th and 25 in St. Paul Minnesota.
Is Raider Hockey back to stay?
The first round WHL playoff matchup against their arch rival Saskatoon Blades provided the potential for the perfect storm. Fan interest would be peaked by a hunger for post season hockey against the bridge city bunch which meant packs of fans travelling back and forth in a series that was also a low overhead proposition for a team struggling to make ends meet.
I thought it would be great if the Raiders could steal one game from the heavily favoured Blades (2nd ranked team in the CHL built for a long playoff run) in their first playoff series in four years feeling they could ride the emotion of an energy charged Art Hauser Centre to a game three victory.
The team also raised its game to a new level while riding the emotional wave of the 7th man to a victory in game four as well. The Blades scored an 8-0 win in game five putting P-A on the brink of elimination for Sunday's game six at the Art Hauser Centre. By 1:30 Sunday afternoon Raider fans responded with the first total sell-out since the long playoff run of 2005.
The noise was deafening every time the Raiders stepped on the ice. I am not alone in saying there is no atmosphere anywhere in the WHL like a sold out Art Hauser Centre. The building was electric and both teams reponded with the best game of the season. The pace was fast with furious physicality and great goaltending at both ends.
The tension was tremendous throughout the tight contest as Raider goalie Jamie Tucker (and his terrific trapper) tantalized the crowd and teased the opposition with his ability to verbally get under the skin of frustrated shooters. Tucker was nothing short of sensational in game six. The best of his 41 saves was a glove snag off Josh Nicholls who was poised to end the game early in overtime with his point blank shot at a wide open net after Tucker made the original save. The 19-year-old from Victoria scrambled back and make a glove save the likes of which haven't been seen before this season and perhaps ever.
It gave you the impression Tucker could not be beaten again on this night...and he wasn't. Jamie's attempted blind feed to who he thought was a Raider defenseman behind the net actually went to Blades veteran Mark Viedensky who fed a wide open fellow import Matei Stransky who had a tap in for the win 4:24 into overtime. Game set and match... the final score 2-1 Saskatoon who won the series 4-games-to-2.
The vast majority of the 3,366 hearts in the rink (not including media and there were Blades fans in the crowd) fell in mass sympathy for Tucker who deserved to raise his vcitorious stick to an adoring audience as the game's first star. Instead his teammates led by Brandon Herrod poured off the bench to console their emotional puck stopper who put on a show stopping performance.
The final salute to a standing ovation from the packed house was enough to bring tears to your eyes. Tears were still glistening from the eyes of a courageous Jamie Tucker who along with Brandon Herrod bravely spoke live on the air to the packed Ches Leach Lounge audience during the radio post game show. Herrod, Tucker as well as Coach and GM Bruno Campese spoke with pride about their showdown against the Blades who will also be a better team because of the challenge they faced from the Raiders.
So the perfect storm is now a calm breeze with thoughts already on the 2011-12 season. The Raiders will have a solid core of overagers with the likes of Herrod, leading scorer and MVP Jonathan Parker, the vastly improved Justin Maylan and perhaps even Tucker coming back. They will be complimented by a solid core of 18 year olds like NHL first round draft prospect Mark McNeill (who should be a no-brain selection for Canada's under 18 team), hard hitting Harrison Ruopp, goalie Eric Williiams and burgoening sniper Todd Fiddler. Lets not forget about potential rookie of the year candidate Josh Morrissey.
Excitement in Raider Hockey hasn't been this high since the run to game 7 of the 2005 Eastern Conference final. Hopefully this translates to an increased seasons ticket base and more butts in the bleachers next season. The three huge playoff gates and supplimentary income (beer) from the Saskatoon series will also be a big boost to the coffers. It could be the difference between another loss approaching the six figure range and breaking even. Who knows...there may also be a tiny profit.
Getting into the playoffs is a big step forward for the Prince Albert Raiders. Have they made progress? Yes, definitely. This franchise has earned respectability. The next step is a big one... building a contender, but it too will take time.
It really is David vs Goliath
-Drew Wilson 03/24/11
The statistical disparity between the Raiders and Blades heading into their first round WHL playoff series is considerable. Saskatoon ran away with the regular season title finishing 48 points ahead of P..A. The Blades won the season series 7-1 (the lone Raider win was a 3-1 victory November 26th at the Art Hauser Centre). Saskatoon also outscored the Raiders 37-19 in the eight head to head match-ups..so on so forth...yada yada yada..etc.
However, the Raiders have embraced the underdog label. Coach and GM Bruno Campese says even before preparing a game plan their first order of business was convincing the players they can win the series.
"You are playing the top team in the Western Hockey League and the second ranked team in the CHL. We don't need to go up and down their line-up because its a team with a tonne of depth. So we know what they are capable of. But I will say this. We have played hard and we have played well down the stretch. The biggest obstacle we have is believing we can go in there and win."
The coaching staff has pointed out to the players there are a lot of examples where underdogs find a way to win Campese says.
"We are certainly the underdog and Saskatoon is a great team and the heat is going to be on them to do what they everybody thinks is going to happen. We will have a game plan and work very diligently...physically and emotionally in preparing our guys for the weekend and I really believe we will be ready."
Campese says it's going to take total focuss and execution of the game plan from everyone regardless of their role of amount of ice time.
19-year-old power forward Brandon Herrod has played on the last three Raider teams that have missed the playoffs. The Meadow Lake native also leads the team in scoring against the Blades with 8 goals and 2 assists. He is excited about his first foray into the playoffs while trying to stay focussed on the task at hand.
"After four years it's a terrific feeling. This year we found a way (to make the playoffs). The feeling...I can't get over it but I can't get too high on it because we are not happy to just get into the playoffs...we want to be successful in the playoffs".
Herrod and line-mate Mark McNeill are riding ten game point streaks heading into the playoffs. McNeill who is WHL player of the week finished the regular season with 26 points over the last 15 games. Justin Maylan is also red hot with 20 points in the final 11 games. He says the team has the right mindset heading into the series.
"They are definitely a good hockey team but at the same time there are many examples of upsets happening and we have to just stick to our game and as they say "will beats skill" so we have to out-will them and work our hardest."
In goal, former Raider Steven Stanford won 40 games in his final season with the Blades. The 20 year old from Calgary also has a lifetime 9-and-1 record against his old team. Stanford is also 6-and-0 vs P.A. this year with a 2.50 goals against average and save percentage of .926.
Jamie Tucker is the likely starter for the Raiders. After coming back from a five week injury absence Tucker was 4-and-1 with a 3.00 goals against average and .914 save percentage (A big improvement on season long numbers of 14-19-1-2.. 3.87 and .889). Tucker also feels he is at the top of his game.
"I'm feeling very confident. This is the best I've played as a Raider in my career so I'm feeling good right now...each game you build on the confidence and each save seems to get easier."
The Raiders will have to do without defenseman Antoine Corbin in Saturday's series opener. He will serve game two of his two game suspension for a knee-on-knee collision with Swift Current's Justin Dowling last Friday. However, 19-year-old winger Charles Wells is expected to be ready after missing two weeks with a shoulder injury.
17-year-old Centreman T.J. Constant has also been recalled from the OCN Blizzard of the Manitoba Junior league for the duration of the Raiders playoff run.
The Raiders are warming up the slingshot, the only question is will the stone find the mark?
Game two is in Saskatoon Sunday with the series shifting back to the Art Hauser Centre Wednesday March 30th and Thursday March 31st. Tickets are available at the Raider box office from 9am to 5pm weekdays. Fans can also call 764-game or buy on-line at raiderhockey.com.
No more playoff purgatory!!!!!
-Drew Wilson 21/03/11
The Raiders have arrived, to the playoffs that is. The four year drought ended on Friday night with a resounding 6-3 win over Swift Current in front of the first full sell-out at the Art Hauser Centre since the memorable long playoff run of 2005. The team responded with energy, focus and determination resulting in a collective sign of relief throughout the entire membership of the Raider nation. In other words...to a person how do they spell relief? P-L-A-Y-O-F-F-S!!!!
The Raiders left Lethbridge in their dust by winning five of their last six games. The only Hiccup was a 7-3 setback in Brandon in the third game on four nights an evening after winning an emotional 5-2 decision over Edmonton at home. The Hurricanes who were neck and neck with the Raiders in the closing weeks would finish 8 points back. In fact the Raiders finished only two points back of Edmonton.
The stretch drive to the playoffs was paced by the consistent point production of team scoring leader Jonathan Parker (45 goals-41 assists). However two other top six forward stepped up with the pressure on. Mark McNeill, the 17-year-old pro prospect finished on a 10 game point streak while also amassing 11 goals and 15 assists over the last 15 games. Brandon Herrod (McNeill's line mate along with Todd Fiddler) also pumped in points in the last ten games in a row, finishing with 7 goals and 9 assists over that period. Fiddler, a 17-year-old rookie wasn't too shabby either, ending on a three game goal scoring streak totalling 8 points in his last 7 games.
However one of the major revelations of the second half was the play of 19-year-old winger Justin Maylan. The Calgarian acquired from Prince George in the summer of 2009 for popular winger James Dobrowolski, ended the season piling up 20 points in the final 11 games. Justin also finished the season on a three game goal scoring streak to end with a career high 21. Maylan credits a good rest over the Christmas holiday fro his rejuvenation. Coach and GM Bruno Campese points to the Maylan's work ethic as his key to success.
Speaking of rejuvenation...how about 19-year-old goalie Jamie Tucker. After struggling badly from mid-October to the beginning of December, Jamie was playing the best hockey of his career when a severely cut thumb suffered in a goal mouth collision with Regina Captain Garrett Mitchell on February 5th took the Victoria puck stopper out of the line-up for five weeks.
Tucker was sensational in the season ending home and home sweep against the Broncos. In fact since his return March 11th against Edmonton, Tucker had a 4-1 record (his only loss was in relief of Eric Williams March 12th in Brandon) with a 3.00 goals against average and a save percentage of .914. Tucker lost his shutout bid Wednesday in Calgary on two shots late in the third period that banked in off Raider defenders.
Making the playoffs is the first goal of any hockey team when the season starts. The Challenge is now big much bigger, if not massive against the Saskatoon Blades. The Raiders biggest rival is the runaway regular season champion in the WHL and ranked 2nd in the CHL. The Blades finished with a franchise record season at 56-13-1-2 and it was no fluke. They have 5-30 goal scorers including import Marek Viedensky. The 20 year old had a career year putting together his WHL career ending totals of 36 goals, 88 points and an incredible plus-60. Let's not forget Brayden Schenn. The Saskatoon native had 21 goals and 53 points in just 27 games since the blockbuster trade from Brandon. Defenseman Stefan Elliott led all WHL rearguards with 31 goals and 81 points with an are-you-kidding-me? plus 62 rating (Do you think Hockey canada missed the boat with his exclusion from the National Junior team? You bet your sweet bippy!!!!).
Then comes perhaps the best storyline. Goaltender Steven Stanford. The overager from Calgary was dealt to the Blades in October of 2009 after losing the number 1 puck stopping job in P-A to Garrett Zemlack who was the Raiders M.V.P. last season. This season Stanford has 40 wins and just 5 losses, 3 shutouts, a 2.78 goals against average and a save percentage of .910. However Steven still has some detractors.
The Blades won the season series 7-1, outscoring the Raiders 37-19. Saskatoon's power play against P.A. was 8-for-33 (24.2%) while the Raiders on the man advantage were 4-for-33 (12.1%).. Even though these teams haven't met since February 11th and the Raiders are playing much better...the first job for Campese and his staff...perhaps even more important than the X's and O's.. is to get their players believing they can beat the Blades.
As for the nay-sayers who are lamenting over the fact the Raiders ONLY grabbed the final playoff berth...and ONLY played one game over .500 in the second half...lighten up. It's the Raiders against the hated Saskatoon Blades in the playoffs... no more need be said.
We will preview the series on 900 CKBI's face-off at 6pm Monday. The show can be heard on 900 CKBI and 900ckbi.com. Get buckled in...it's going to be a wild ride!!!
Drew Wilson - 03/15/11
The Raiders and their fans have a couple of magic numbers to watch as the P.A. boys try to nail down the franchise's first playoff berth in four seasons.
Any combination of Raider victories and Lethbridge regulation losses adding up to three, or any combination of plus or minus point combinations adding up to five.
The Raiders open their final week of the season Wednesday night in Calgary and wrap up with a home and home series against Swift Current beginning Friday at the Art Hauser Centre. The Hurricanes who are two points behind the Raiders for the final Eastern playoff spot, invade Edmonton Tuesday and clash with Kootenay in a season ending home and home series. So schedule wise it's advantage Raiders.
P.A. has a 2-1 lead in the season series against the Hitmen who are still without Prince Albert boy and co-captain Tyler Fiddler who has been battling a high ankle sprain for weeks. However a team out of the playoff picture playing solely for pride can make life difficult as they will not want to soil the bed in front of the home town fans.
The Raiders will have to do without Jonathan Parker against the Hitmen. The team's leading scorer (44 goals 40 assists) will serve a one game suspension for a major elbowing penalty in Brandon. Rookie Shane Danyluk took Parker's spot against the Wheat Kings and was skating between Parkers line mates Igor Revenko and Justin Maylan during Monday's practice. Danyluk also scored a power play goal against the Wheat Kings after Parker's ejection. But Parker counted three goals and three assists last week. The injured Revenko appears ready to go while 19-year-old-winger Charles Wells remains a question mark.
Mark McNeill and Brandon Herrod also had big weeks. McNeill with four goals and two helpers while Herrod had five points including two goals. The 19 year-old-power forward from Meadow Lake is on a 7 game point streak while McNeill has 13 points in his last six contests and was dominant in Friday's 5-2 win over Edmonton. If the Raiders can duplicate that effort this week they will play post season hockey for the first time since 2007. Their other win last week was that wild and wacky wide open 8-5 victory over Regina.
Last year the Raiders faded badly down the stretch losing 12 of their last 17 games but appear more poised, mature and less fragile when adversity has struck over the past month. Excellent execution of Friday's game plan signalled the team was mentally prepared against Edmonton but lacking early in Saturday's 7-3 loss in Brandon. Mental toughness and maturity this week could mean the difference between another year in playoff purgatory or ascension into the promised land.
All Raider games can be heard on 900 CKBI or 900ckbi.com.
Playoffs or Playoff Purgatory?
-Drew Wilson 07/03/11
With two weeks (6 games) to go the Raider and Lethbridge remain tied for the 8th and final playoff spot in the WHL East. Regina is hanging tough just three points off the pace heading into Wednesday's crucial showdown with the Raiders at the Art Hauser Centre. Not so long ago these three teams were part of a larger battle with Edmonton, Brandon and Swift Current for the final three playoff spots.
The Oil Kings and Brandon have pulled away from the pack and are in their own battle for 6th and 7th (Edmonton leads the Wheat Kings by one point) while the Broncos have fallen out of the race having just ended an 8 game losing streak. Their win in Calgary on Saturday was just their second in the last 17 games. Swift Current is 6 points back with six games to go.
The Raiders appeared ready to pull away with three wins in four games culminating with a 3-2 victory victory in Moose Jaw on February 19th, but have lost four of the last five including Saturday's 4-2 setback against Kootenay in front of a sell-out crowd at the Art Hauser Centre.
The game was decided by Ice goalie Nathan Liewen who made many sensational stops among his 33 saves, 14 of which came in the third period.. A questionable penalty call on Nathan Deck with less than two minutes left killed any chance the Raiders had of counting the tying goal. Kootenay would get an empty netter on the power play in the final minute. However, if the Raiders can duplicate that kind of effort in their final six games their chances of making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons are good. Meanwhile it appears P.A. has the most favourable schedule of the three potential playoff amigos.
Prince Albert (6)
Home (3): Regina, Edmonton, Swift Current
Away (3): Brandon, Calgary, Swift Current
Home (3): Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat, Kootenay
Away (3): Calgary, Edmonton, Kootenay
Home (2): Moose Jaw, Saskatoon
Away (4): Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Saskatoon
The Raiders have recalled 2010 first round pick and WHL ready defenseman Josh Morrissey now that his Calgary Midget AAA team has been eliminated from the playoffs. He is now a permanent Raider and has the promise of a franchise player to be built around. Coach and GM Bruno Campese says ice time is not guaranteed but based on his only other appearance against a very good Medicine Hat team....you have to figure Morrissey will get a chance to play.
Meanwhile 16 year old goalie Brendan Fiebelkorn made quite a WHL regular season debut. The prospect from Winnipeg made several great saves while stopping all 14 shots he faced in the third period of the Raiders 5-3 loss in Moose Jaw. Fiebelkorn has also become a favourite in the dressing room because of his work ethic in practice.
But he is back with his Midget AAA Winnipeg Hawks with the return of Jamie Tucker to active duty. The 19 year old has been cleared to play after missing four weeks with a severely cut thumb. He was injured in a goal moth collision with Regina Pats Captain Garrett Mitchell. Tucker was playing the best hockey of his career at the time. However 19 year old winger Charles Wells has suffered a shoulder separation.
Those will be among topics on Monday's face off program (6pm on 900 CKBI & 900ckbi.com). We will also talk with Dale Hawerchuk who is the guest speaker for the May 13th Sportsmans awards dinner in the Ches Leach lounge. On that topic we are accepting nominations for the 900 CKBI/Kinsmen Male and Female athletes of the year and Sportperson of the year. They can be emailed to email@example.com faxed to (306) 764-1850 or delivered to the Broadcast Centre.
We're in the home stretch!!!!
-Drew Wilson 28/02/11
The Raiders head into the final three weeks of the regular season running neck and neck with Lethbridge for the final playoff spot in the WHL's Eastern Conference with Regina just three points off the pace.
While the Raiders dropped both ends of their weekend trek in Kootenay and Medicine Hat, the Hurricanes were splitting their home and home series with the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The P.A. crew played a good game in Kootenay but didn't make good decisions like trying the perfect pass instead of shooting from prime scoring areas. The Ice meanwhile did a good job of making the Raiders pay for their mistakes by scoring at key times. Goaltender Eric Williams was excellent other than the innocuous early second period shot that made it 2-0 Ice.
In Medicine Hat on Saturday the Raiders got off to a great start. Relentless forchecking pressure and a quick transition game resulted in an early 2-0 lead they carried past the midway point of the second period. That's when Tyler Pittlick roofed a backhander from a sharp angle getting the first of his hat trick and the first of the Tigers six unanswered goals. Raider killer Linden Vey would end the night with three assists. The Wakaw native would end the season series with four goals and six assists against P.A.
It was a tough night the rest of the way for the Raider defence which was under constant siege by the opportunistic Tigers and a tough night for Williams as it appeared the rookie goalie and entire team become either physically or mentally fatigued by the onslaught.
Tuesday night the Raiders bus to Bronco land for a pivotal sojourn with Swift Current. While P.A. is trying to open a two point gap on the idle Hurricanes, the Broncos have to win or any realistic chances for a playoff spot go down hook, line and sinker.
Swift Current is riding a 7 game losing streak and have won only once in their last 16. The Broncos have been decimated by injuries for months. They were without front line forwards Justin Dowling (ankle), Taylor Vause (ankle), and Jordan Peddle (suspended) in Friday's loss to Regina. Defenseman Jordan Evans also sat out with a concussion along with winger Killian Hutt who hasn't played since December.
Goaltender Derek Tendler has been recalled from the Manitoba Junior league to take some of the pressure off 20 year old work horse Mark Friesen who has appeared in 59 of the Broncos 64 games. The Broncos have won 3 of the 5 head to head meetings but the Raiders posted a 6-1 win in their only clash since Christmas.
Here is a look at the schedules involving the three contenders for the final Eastern playoff spot.
Prince Albert Remaining Games:
Lethbridge Remaining Games:
Regina Remaining Games:
It appears the Raiders have the most favourable schedule but the bottom line is you have to win those games. P.A. also plays this Friday in Moose Jaw before hosting Kootenay Saturday night in their first home game since February 18th. To say interesting days lie ahead falls well within the understatement category.
A week and weekend to remember
-Drew Wilson 23/02/11
The Raiders are coming off one of their best weeks of the season on the ice and off. Winning three of four games in a significant achievement for a team that has been battling consistency all season. Winning both road games is also a significant achievement especially the Wednesday night game in Regina that may have scuttled any hopes the Pats have at making the playoffs.
The week began Tuesday with a 4-0 win over Calgary at the Art Hauser Centre as 17-year-old rookie goaltender Eric Williams recorded his first WHL shutout. He was just as good if not better making 16 of his 37 saves in the third period preserving P.A.'s 4-3 win. Williams has a 4-and-2 record with a goals against average of just over 3.00 and a .917 save percentage since taking over from the injured Jamie Tucker as the number one puck stopper. Eric's numbers last were are even more impressive. He was 3-and-1 with a goals against average of just over 2.50 and a save percentage of .929. Outstanding numbers for any goalie in junior hockey.
Friday's 6-3 loss to Moose Jaw on Wall of Honour night at the Art Hauser Centre was the lone hiccup. A lack of focus at the beginning of the third period with the game tied proved to be the difference, mind you Warrior Centreman Quinton Howden's four goal evening had something to do with it.
That made Saturday's wrapper of the home and home series in Moose Jaw pivotal. The outcome would make the week either mediocre or pretty darned good. The Raiders dominated the first period outshooting the Warriors 18-6 and carried a 2-0 lead into the second period which was extended to 3-0 on Jordan Rowley's eventual winner on a 4-on-4 sequence. It stayed that way until the third and you knew the home side would come out guns-a-blazing. The Warriors would score on a mid period power play and and gratuitous bounce with 6-attackers with two minutes to go. However Williams was supremely confident and the Raider defence was composed.
The first star of the night was Mark McNeill who scored once, assisted on Brandon Herrod's goal and blocked a big shot in the dying seconds. Ironically an NHL scout seen frequently around the Art Hauser Centre this year said to me before the Saturday game that it was time for McNeill to step up his game. As for Williams, he said the rookie goalie needs to make great saves with the game on the line. Both prophetically came to be on Saturday night in the crushed can as both crushed the hopes of a rink packed with Warrior fans.
Back in Prince Albert, fans and alumni packed the ice surface for the 40th Anniversary Gala. Front table guest included Bob Daniels, Mel Parenteau and Ray Bansley, members of the very first Prince Albert Raiders team in 1971. The night before after the home game against the Warriors, the team raised about $15-thousand from the auction of the commemorative jerseys. Williams' jersey brought in the biggest amount at $16-hundred.
The Raiders his the road this weekend for a Friday night tilt against the Ice in Kootenay and invade the Medicine Hat arena on Saturday. They will meet two of the best players in the WHL as Cody Eakin leads the potent Kootenay attack having come from Swift Current in a deadline blockbuster trade. On Saturday Wakaw's Linden Vey continues his quest for the WHL scoring title as his Tiger team continues its climb toward a top three ranking in the Eastern Conference.
It's a tough stretch for the Raiders that will include road games next week in Swift Current and Moose Jaw before hosting the Ice a week from Saturday. Given the schedule the three point lead for the final playoff spot is hardly iron clad, However, moving up another one or two spots in the standings isn't out of the question either if the Raiders can once and for wall drop the "in" from their inconsistant label.
All Raider games can be heard on 900 CKBI.
-Drew Wilson 14/02/11
The Raiders two games last week is proof of the upper and lower echelons in the WHL's Eastern Conference.
On Wednesday night the P.A. boys dismantled Swift Current 6-1 at the Art Hauser Centre getting 11 points from the line of Jonathan Parker, Justin Maylan and Igor Revenko. That win moved the Raiders into a tie with the slumping side from speedy creek in the standings. It was a game in which the plan was executed extremely well. There was constant pressure on the young Bronco defence which paid off in two early goals and a 6-0 lead in the late stages of the second period. Goaltender Eric Williams also made great saves at key times. The Raiders did all this without an ailing Mark McNeill who was battling a bad flu bug.
On Saturday night in Saskatoon the Blades showed who they are ranked 3rd in the CHL (all of Canadian Major Junior hockey) and are the comfortable leader of the Eastern Conference (7 points ahead of Red Deer with two games in hand). Brayden Schenn scored twice on Blades power play opportunities early in the game to set the stage. If it's possible Schenn looks even bigger in a Saskatoon uniform than he did as a Wheat King. Although Revenko scored a highlight reel goal on a Raider power play late in the first period the momentum was short lived.
Saskatoon struck for another on the man advantage early in the second on their way to five unanswered goals and a 7-2 win. The Raiders were badly outshot and out chanced. Goaltender Eric Williams actually had a very good game despite giving up 7 goals. He was victimized in more ways than one. On the Blades 7th goal he was knocked out of the crease by a sliding Raider defenseman giving Darren Dietz an easy goal on a 2-on-1 situation. The Blades shut down the neutral zone once establishing the lead giving up little space and little opportunity for the Raiders to create offense. The Raiders also had difficulty all game long receiving and controlling passes and once they had to open it up, the Blades used quick transition to create odd man rushes.
The Raiders definitely were sharper and played at a higher level against Swift Current but the Blades are a team that is solid in all areas. Goalie Steven Stanford made some excellent saves on Saturday although a bad rebound resulted in Todd Fiddler's goal late in the game. Saskatoon's defence is big, strong, tough and skilled and their group of forwards were already scary before the addition of Schenn, the most valuable player at the World Junior Championships. The Raiders will not meet them again unless they clash in the playoffs.
This coming week is a very busy one. After hosting Calgary on Tuesday, The Raiders head to Regina for a crucial clash with the Pats. The rebuilding Reginans are very much in the playoff race trailing P.A. by just two points. Then it's a home and home series with Moose Jaw Friday at the Art Hauser Centre and Saturday in the crushed can.
Friday's game comes on Wall of Honour night which will be highlighted by the official inductions of former players Peter Anholt, James Patrick, Ken Baumgartner and Mike Modano in addition to an impressive group of builders. One night later the rink will be transformed for the Raiders 40th anniversary gala which will include the auctions of several valuable items like autographed jerseys by Modano, Chris Phillips Nick Schultz and Jeremy Colliton. There are still tickets available. For information call 764-game or visit raiderhockey.com.
There are only five weeks to go in the regular season and the Raiders remain very much in the tight five way battle for the final two playoff spots in the East. Saturday's game in Moose Jaw will also mark the first of five in a row on the road. This team has been consistently inconsistent for weeks. The past two games are no exception. Removing the second element of that oxymoron would go a long way toward securing their first playoff in four seasons.
For the latest Raider information tune into 900 CKBI's faceoff Monday evening at 6pm.
Is lightning striking twice?
-Drew Wilson 06/02/11
You get a strange and queasy feeling of deja vu from Saturday night's injury to Raider goalie Jamie Tucker. The 19-year-old veteran suffered a deep cut to the thumb on his blocker hand after a high speed goal crease collision with Regina Pat captain Garrett Mitchell. Tucker made 6 saves and was confident in the first period when the incident happened. Tucker didn't return and may not be back in the line-up for some time. It was in January of last season when Brandon's Shayne Weibe ran Raider goalie Garrett Zemlack who missed several games with a concussion. That incident had a great bearing on the late season slump that cost the Raiders a playoff spot.
I'm not saying history will repeat itself, but there are similarities. Zemlack was one of the best goalies in the WHL last year when he was knocked out cold. The after effects of the concussion and time missed had a definite impact on Garrett's game down the stretch. Mind you he still played well enough to earn team MVP honours. Tucker has been playing his beat hockey since coming to the Raiders in January of 2010. He has improved steadily since a first half slump that began on the B.C. road trip.
Eric Williams who played in Friday night's 4-3 win over Lethbridge had to come off the bench cold and the Pats took advantage with four quick goals on the type of shots Eric has stopped in the past and will again in the future. The 17-year-old rookie was the last line of defence after a five minute stretch of turnovers, bad line changes and a myriad of other mistakes caused by an entire Raider team who appeared to be affected by the Tucker injury. To William's credit, he got better as the game wore on and made some excellent and a couple sensational saves in the third period when the Raiders got into penalty trouble.
There were already two fights and some bad blood brewing before the Mitchell-Tucker collision and three more fights followed in the second period. In addition to that incident, there was a vicious cross check to the back of Raider forward Brandon Herrod which was missed by the officiating crew (who suggested Herrod took a dive...check the video folks).
Once the nastiness subsided, the Raiders outplayed, out chanced and outscored the Pats but couldn't recover from deficits of 4-1 and 5-2 suffering a 5-4 setback in a winnable game. You could easily argue if Tucker wasn't hurt, the Raiders leave Regina with a victory. Igor Revenko alone had several chances including a goal mouth deflection that barely missed an open net. Earlier Todd Fiddler was robbed by Regina goalie Matt Hewitt on what looked like a sure goal in the dying seconds of the second period. The Pats also scored their final goal moments after Mark McNeill rung one off the post.
I'm not for a moment suggesting the collision was deliberate. Referee Regan Vetter must have felt it wasn't calling a two minute goaltender interference penalty on Mitchell. Last year Wiebe got a five minute major and three game suspension. However, goal crease collisions or dog piles around the net happen every game. I have no idea what the solution is but more injuries are inevitable when all you get for crashing into a goalie (without premeditation) is two minutes in the box. There is little incentive for slowing up when approaching the crease at high speed.
If the game wasn't so crucial to the Eastern Conference playoff race, it could have gotten very very ugly.
In other footnotes from the weekend...Holy Hanna Harrison Ruopp. The 17-year-old second year defenseman is blossoming. He got three assists in Regina in addition to throwing several hits including a bone crusher on Shane Neigum, whom he then traded punches with after the clean hit. Ruopp also had a strong game against the Hurricanes on Friday night and should again garner attention from NHL scouts. Meanwhile Andrew Herle has scored on consecutive nights due to his grit, heart and willingness to go to the net.
The Raiders host Swift Current on Wednesday in another crucial Eastern Conference head to head clash before making a Friday night trip to Saskatoon.
Get the latest on all of these issues Monday night at 6 o'clock on 900 CKBI's faceoff.
The future is now, in more way than one
-Drew Wilson 24/01/11
As the Raiders nurse a tenuous two point lead for the WHL's final Eastern playoff spot comes word that 2010 first round draft choice Josh Morrissey will make his regular season debut Wednesday against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
The timing of this has nothing to do with the team's three game losing streak which was accentuated with the 6-2 home ice loss Friday against the last place Calgary Hitmen. First of all, no matter how good, a 15 year old defenseman will not lift a major junior team out of its doldrums. It is far too much to ask. Morrissey's appearance is a simple case of availability. His Calgary Royals team is not in action and the coaching staff want to serve the player selected 6th overall last spring, his first real WHL cup of coffee. Morrissey was very good in the two training camp rookie games against the Saskatoon Blades.
Josh is having an outstanding season. As a defenseman, he is leading his team in points (36 in 24 games including 15 goals) and is 13th overall in the Albert Midget AAA scoring race. The 40 penalty minutes also suggests Morrissey plays with an edge. The coaching staff is excited about Morrissey's potential. Josh is a first team all star in the Alberta Midget AAA Loop, has already played in the league's all star game in addition to the Mac tournament and has made the province's Canada Games team. Scouts outside the organization agree, Josh Morrissey could be a cornerstone of the Raiders in years to come. He is allowed to play five games until his Midget AAA season is over and can then become a full time Raider.
There is a good new, bad news scenario to the Raiders current slide. The good news is they still occupy the final playoff spot despite the three game slide. It's also encouraging to know Edmonton and Swift Current (tied for 6th) are just four points up on P.A. (Oil Kings have two games in hand on the Raiders, P.A. has two games in hand on the Broncos)
The dynamics of the Conference provides the Raiders with the best chance in four years to make the playoffs. A team like the Raiders (6 games under .500) would normally have no hope in H-E-double hockey sticks of making the playoffs since the move to the Conference set up four years ago. However, 6 of the 12 teams have lost more than they have won meaning a playoff spot is there for the taking.
The schedule is also in the Raiders favour. There are only a pair of road trips that require an overnight stay. The P.A. boys also play 12 of their final 23 games against teams under .500 including four head to head matchups against Swift Current (one of the teams they are trying to catch). A reduced travel schedule should mean less fatigue and more time to practice and prepare. However, despite the many favourable factors at play, the key will be consistency, not only from game to game but within games.
Consistency or the lack thereof has plagued the Raiders all season.
(Drew Wilson is the voice of the Raiders, host of "face off" every Monday night at 6 o'clock on 900 CKBI and SIGA'S Inside Edge every week on Shaw TV)
To trade or not to trade...that is the question?
By Drew Wilson- 06/01/11
pa NOW Staff:
A pendulum like season complicated by injuries to key personnel in the wake of unpredictable uncharacteristically close playoff races has made the trade deadline a dilemma for most WHL teams including the Prince Albert Raiders.
The Raiders first five games of the second half has provided no clear picture to Coach and GM Bruno Campese as to whether he should deal veterans with value to go young and build for the future, or stand pat and add a piece or two for a playoff spot push.
Two losses to Saskatoon and a setback in Regina to start the post Christmas portion of the schedule had you thinking the Raiders should take a long hard look at going young. However, Sunday's solid 5-4 win over a very good Red Deer team at the Art Hauser Centre followed by the wild and woolly heart stopping 6-5 comeback win over the Wheat Kings in Brandon put P.A. back into a playoff spot (The Raiders have a two point lead in Lethbridge but the Hurricanes have four games in hand).
The options are being considered knowing the Raiders play seven of their next eight games at home, another one of several make or break stretches for this hockey team and its fans who haven't seen playoff hockey since March of 2007.
Option three is a saw-off. Rookie forwards Mike Winther and Shane Danyluk are coming back after strong performances for Team Pacific at the World Under 17 challenge in Winnipeg, while 17 year old rookie Todd Fiddler has stepped up his game (two goals vs Brandon) replacing the injured Justin Maylan on a top two line. The emergence of rookie Matt Berry from the healthy scratch list increases the possibility of a deal involving a veteran defenseman. However, even though Berry looks ready for more ice time, the chances of a back line deal are dependant on the recoveries of Tyler Yaworski and Harrison Ruopp. Yaworski is battling back from mononucleosis while Ruopp is out for up to three more weeks with a shoulder injury.
If Campese is confident those improving youngsters can step in and minimize the impact of moving a veteran or two, there is a chance of making the playoffs while putting a piece of the future puzzle in place. What makes this an attractive option is the fact there is more demand than supply heading into Monday's trade deadline. The only definite seller is the Calgary Hitmen who are currently 9 points out of the dance but more daunting is the fact they need to pass four teams to get to the post season.
Buyers include Saskatoon who are one offensively gifted player who can quarterback the power play away from Memorial Cup contention, in addition to Kootenay (the Ice have two first round draft choices), Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Spokane. Portland and Tri City may also dig deeper after making blockbuster deals (The Americans acquired Carter Ashton and a draft pick from Regina for two players and three draft picks while the Winterhawks swapped two players and two draft picks for Vancouver's Craig Cunningham). The Pats also picked up two players and a draft pick from Kamloops for 20 year old winger Thomas Frazee so there is tremendous value for medium to high impact veterans.
There are valid arguments for all three options which may become much more clear after games Friday against Saskatoon and Saturday against the Wheat Kings at the Art Hauser Centre. But the way this season has gone...don't bet on it.
A full recap of trade deadline day can be heard Monday night at 6pm on 900 CKBI's "face-off". All Raider games can also be heard on 900 CKBI and 900ckbi.com.
The Raiders wrap up a turbulent first half
Drew Wilson- 16/12/10
The Raiders will head home for the Christmas break after this weekend's home and home series against the rebuilding Regina Pats.
The first half certainly did not go according to the script laid out by Coach and GM Bruno Campese and his staff. The team's backbone was supposed to be its defence anchored by 20-year-old co-captains Jordan Rowley and Nathan Deck. Rowley missed 16 games after breaking his wrist in a fight with former Blades tough guy Curt Gogal in the season opener. Before Rowley's return, Deck went down for 12 games following a knee-on-knee collision October 22nd against Medicine Hat.
Joining his fellow 20 year old's in the mash unit was Igor Revenko who sat out 7 games with an abdominal ailment only to injure his knee five games into his return December 4th in Lethbridge. Igor should be back in the line-up December 29th when the second half starts at home against Saskatoon.
While Raider brass is not offering injuries as an excuse, they were a factor in a seven game losing streak and run of just one win in a 13 game span that spun the Raiders down the Eastern Conference standings. Struggling specialty teams especially at home were also a major contributor. The Raiders spent much of the first half with the worst home ice power play and penalty kill numbers in the WHL.
The P.A. boys can make the playoffs in a parity laden (sometimes parody laden) Eastern Conference if they remain healthy. You have to assume Rowley and Deck will keep improving as they play more games to compliment the offensive resurgence of Ryan Button from the back line. A healthy Igor Revenko needs to catch fire. Igor's second half this season will have to resemble last years first half when the bashful Belarusian scored 18 goals in the first 30 games.
Meanwhile in goal, Jamie Tucker, rookie Eric Williams or both will have to pull out some "Zemlakian" type performances following in the fabulous footsteps of last year's MVP Garrett Zemlack who has graduated to the pro ranks.
If the first half is any indication the Raiders will provide us with a lot of fun and frustration.
Meanwhile, some thoughts from the 40th anniversary game against Everett. On the ice the 5-1 victory was one of the best Raider performances of the season. The pre-game ceremony was magical. The parade of the now retired Centennial and current Memorial Cups to centre ice by players on those championship teams brought back memories that will be etched in Raider annals forever. It was also fitting to honour the past presidents on hand.
There was a crowd of just over 24-hundred, which is an excellent turn out on any ordinary night. However, this was the night honouring the franchise for five National championships. Legendary Coach Terry Simpson headlined a long list of Alumni on hand. A sell out should have been a slam dunk. The Raiders are respected and in some corners revered for their accomplishments when you get to chat with fans from other WHL cities..
Hats off to the faithful core of fans who continue to support the team and share that vi