Up until last weekend’s home-and-home series against the Saskatoon Blades, it had been a while since Prince Albert Raiders netminder Boston Bilous had made back-to-back appearances as a starter.
“I think that was the first time I had made two straight starts that wasn’t due to an injury to one of our goalies since I was playing midget (for the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds in British Columbia) a couple of years ago,” Bilous said.
“I’m excited for the opportunity after the last two seasons in the league, but I know that nothing is given. I need to earn that opportunity through each start and that’s what I’m looking to do here.”
The 18-year-old from Langley, B.C. made a strong impression during last weekend’s matchups against the Blades, as he rebounded from a 3-2 overtime loss Friday at the Art Hauser Centre with a 26-save performance in a 1-0 affair at SaskTel Centre Saturday for the second clean sheet of his Western Hockey League career.
His first shutout came on Sept. 28, 2018 with the Edmonton Oil Kings as he made 15 saves in a 5-0 triumph over the Swift Current Broncos.
“We’re all really happy for him and Boston’s the kind of guy that you want to play hard for,” Raiders forward Cole Fonstad said.
“Boston’s a great teammate and he does all the right things. He knew this was going to be a big year for him and he came into the season in great shape and a lot of confidence, which is already paying off for him.”
After being acquired from the Edmonton Oil Kings at the trade deadline, Bilous posted a 5-0-1-0 record with a 3.06 goals against average and an .877 save percentage as the backup to Ian Scott.
Although his last appearance of the campaign came in a six-minute relief stint against the Moose Jaw Warriors on March 2, Bilous still played a key role in the Raiders’ run to their second Ed Chynoweth Cup.
“Even though guys like him and (former blueliner Loeden) Schaufler didn’t play a lot, they always kept their teammates spirits up and they never complained,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “They were team first guys and they deserve just as much credit for the title as everyone else.
“Boston’s getting his chance now and you can tell the guys are willing to do whatever they can to help him out.”
From his vantage point on the bench, Bilous was able to learn just what it takes to come away with a league championship.
“I was able to take bits and pieces from everyone as they were all big game players,” Bilous said.
“You have guys like Parker Kelly, who had the most determination of anyone in the league, and then you have guys like Ian who were so cool, calm and collected. The chance to learn from those guys really helped me out a lot going into this year, especially with the mental side of the game.”
As the Raiders prepare for a road contest against the Regina Pats on Friday and a home matchup with the Winnipeg Ice on Saturday, Bilous knows that the other 21 teams in the league will be looking to knock the reigning title holders off of their perch throughout the campaign.
“It’s pretty obvious that we have a target on our back but that’s a lot of white noise and nothing that we can control,” Bilous said.
“What we can control is what we do in the dressing room, in the gym and on the ice. We’re going to do that to the best of our abilities and try and beat everyone day in and day out.”
Friday’s matchup in Regina is the first of the year between the East Division rivals, as the Raiders are coming off taking five of six meetings from the Pats in last year’s season series.
The Raiders have won three straight games at the Brandt Centre, with their last loss in the provincial capital coming in a 3-2 shootout affair on March 14, 2018.
The Pats head into this weekend with a 1-1 record after splitting their first two games of the season with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
They picked up a 3-2 at home last Friday night but fell 5-3 in the rematch at Mosaic Place Saturday.
According to the WHL’s weekly report, Pats goaltender Max Paddock and defenceman Jake Johnson are day-to-day with ailments, with Danton Belluk slated to make his first career start in between the pipes.
Raiders forward Jakob Brook is week-to-week with a lower body injury he sustained at Hockey Canada’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup selection camp last month.
Around the WHL
Following Tuesday’s deal that saw the Raiders acquire 20-year-old forward Brayden Watts from the Vancouver Giants, two more trades involving overagers took place Wednesday.
The first occurred in the morning as the Spokane Chiefs dealt Ethan McIndoe, who had 40 points in 63 games last season, to the Edmonton Oil Kings for two picks.
The second took place that evening as the Saskatoon Blades traded Ryan Hughes, who had three points in a season-opening win over the Raiders last Friday, to the Kamloops Blazers for 2001-born forward Jerzy Orchard and a pair of draft picks.
Two big names are back in the WHL for the rest of the 2019-20 campaign, as Buffalo Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens was reassigned to the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Bowen Byram was sent back to the Vancouver Giants by the Colorado Avalanche.
The first round picks in this summer’s NHL Draft are expected to make their season debuts Friday night.
Thursday also saw Red Deer Rebels blueliner Dawson Barteaux sign his entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars.
A sixth round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, the 19-year-old from Foxwarren, Man. had 34 points in 67 contests for the Rebels last season.
Although it has yet to be confirmed by both teams, a big trade took place in the OHL late Thursday evening as the London Knights acquired San Jose Sharks defensive prospect Ryan Merkley from the Peterborough Petes for three draft picks.
The first overall pick in the 2016 OHL Draft by the Guelph Storm, Merkley has put up 193 points in 188 regular season games, but his defensive play has left a lot to be desired during his junior career.
- Edmonton 4 Red Deer 1 (Riley Sawchuk – Two Goals)
- Portland 4 Kamloops 3 (Jake Gricius – One Goal and Two Assists)
- Moose Jaw vs. Brandon – 6:30 p.m.
- Edmonton vs. Calgary – 7 p.m.
- Red Deer vs. Lethbridge – 7 p.m.
- Prince Albert vs. Regina – 7 p.m.
- Winnipeg vs. Saskatoon – 7 p.m.
- Medicine Hat vs. Swift Current – 7 p.m.
- Kelowna vs. Kamloops – 8 p.m.
- Prince George vs. Victoria – 8 p.m.
- Portland vs. Vancouver – 8:30 p.m.
- Tri-City vs. Seattle – 8:30 p.m.