As the Prince Albert Raiders went on their six-game road trip through British Columbia over the last two weeks, newly acquired goaltender Boston Bilous go to see first hand why the team has become the one that everyone is chasing in the Western Hockey League.
“When you look at their record you wonder how and why they are so good,” Bilous said. “A lot of it comes down to the leadership within in the group and how they hold each other accountable. They are playing for the logo and each other every single night.
“There’s a special bond here and everyone’s accepted me into the team. It’s a very fun group to be around and I’m looking forward to the future here.”
Bilous joined the team on Jan. 10 as part of a trio of moves the Raiders made on WHL Trade Deadline Day.
The Langley, B.C. native, who will be turning 18 years of age Saturday, had spent the last season and a half with the Edmonton Oil Kings prior to being dealt to Prince Albert.
“Obviously it’s hard when you get traded, but that’s all in the past,” Bilous said. “I’m a Raider now and I’m here to whatever I can to help our team win.”
Bilous earned a pair of victories for the Raiders during the road trip, as had turned aside 29 shots in a 4-1 triumph over the Kamloops Blazers on Jan. 18 and made 13 saves in a 7-3 affair against the Kootenay Ice last Saturday night.
“To be able to help the guys get a couple of wins was a great feeling,” Bilous said. “I thought I had a good game against Kamloops. I was able to get my feet underneath me and the guys played really well in front of me
“I didn’t get as much as work in against Kootenay and there was a goal or two that I want back. However, those are things that I can work in practice and those starts were good building blocks towards the future.”
Having previously committed to the NCAA’s Denver Pioneers, Bilous signed with the Oil Kings in the summer of 2016 after they drafted him in the fourth round of that year’s WHL Bantam Draft.
After posting an 0-10-1-0 record with a 4.72 goals against average and a .838 save percentage in his rookie campaign, he had a 3-4-0-1 mark with a 3.56 goals against average, a .859 save percentage and a shutout this year prior to being traded to the Raiders.
“Last year was difficult at times, especially being a young guy in the league and not getting as many touches as you would like in goal,” Bilous said.
“I think it was good to go from some adversity though as I’ve become a better goalie for it.”
Bilous also found himself among a bevy of netminders who have been in the Oil Kings crease over the last two years, as Travis Child, Josh Dechaine, Dylan Myskiw and Todd Scott all suited up for the team during his time there.
“It was definitely hard at times when you are in a situation where there are three goaltenders on the roster,” Bilous said.
“My work ethic didn’t change though and I was always focused on improving my game. I have the same approach here now working with Ian (Scott) and I’ve already learned a lot from him when it comes to what it takes to be successful both on and off the ice.”
Bilous will get a chance to see his old team Friday as the Oil Kings will pay a visit to the Art Hauser Centre.
After hosting the Moose Jaw Warriors Saturday, the Raiders will then make a trip to Bilous’ old team as they’ll take on the Oil Kings at Rogers Arena Monday.
“It’s crossed my mind a little bit as we get ready to go back there, but for me it’s just another game that I have to prepare for,” Bilous said.
Monday’s meeting in Edmonton was originally slated for Wednesday, Feb. 6, but was rescheduled due to a Justin Timberlake concert that had been postponed back in November.
The Raiders are 2-0 against the Oil Kings this season, as they picked up a 6-3 win in Edmonton on Nov. 28 and followed that up with a 6-5 overtime triumph in Prince Albert on Dec. 12.
Heading into Friday’s contest, the Raiders have won five straight meetings with the Oil Kings, with their last loss coming in a 4-1 affair in Edmonton in December 2017.
They have also won their last five matchups at the Art Hauser Centre in a streak that dates back to 2015.
According to the WHL’s Weekly Report, forward Jake Neighbours is day-to-day with an upper body injury he sustained against the Red Deer Rebels on Dec. 30, while defenceman Logan Dowhaniuk is out for two more weeks with an upper body injury.
Oil Kings blueliner Conner McDonald and Raiders captain Brayden Pachal are the hottest skaters in the lineups for both teams entering Friday night as they each have four game point streaks.