In recent years, there’s been a downward slide in the standings for the team that hoisted the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
That hasn’t been the case for the 2019-20 edition of the Prince Albert Raiders, as the defending Western Hockey League champion have a 20-9-3-1 record at the Christmas break and hold a five-point advantage over the Winnipeg Ice for first place in the East Division.
“We’re getting great contributions throughout our entire lineup,” Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt said. “Our goaltending has been very good and we’re getting great competition in that position, which is keeping both guys (Boston Bilous and Carter Seryhenko) sharp.
“I think the other guys are accepting different roles as well. (Head coach) Marc (Habscheid) likes to use the front seat and back seat analogy and you’re seeing the older players doing that. There’s leading the group now and the culture remains very strong.”
There are 10 players from last year’s roster that are back with the Raiders, as Bilous is joined by blueliners Kaiden Guhle, Zack Hayes and Jeremy Masella, along with forwards Jakob Brook, Spencer Moe, Justin Nachbaur, Eric Pearce, Aliaksei Protas and Ozzy Wiesblatt.
“We also brought in different players during the season last year that gained some experience, such as Tyson Laventure, Evan Herman and Cole Nagy,” Hunt said. “That’s something we’ve also done this year with (2019 first round pick) Niall Crocker coming here over the last weeks.
“I think those younger guys got a good understanding of what it’s like to be a Raiders. They got to see how we practice, how we prepare for games, how we respond afterwards and what we do in the community.”
The Raiders have also been active in the transaction market during the first half of the campaign, as they’ve made 13 moves since September leading into the Christmas roster freeze.
During that time, they acquired blueliner Remy Aquilon from the Victoria Royals, overage forward Brayden Watts from the Vancouver Giants, import forward Daniil Stepanov from the Moose Jaw Warriors, forward Reece Vitelli from the Everett Silvertips and forward Michael Horon from the Seattle Thunderbirds.
They also dealt overage blueliner Max Martin to the Kamloops Blazers and Montreal Canadians forward prospect Cole Fonstad to the Silvertips.
“I’m sure hockey fans have followed the situation over the last week when the New Jersey Devils dealt Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes and the discussion about doing the trade now instead of at the NHL trade deadline,” Hunt said. “You have to weigh a lot of things when you make a trade.
“We really want to make sure that any deal that we make is something that will help us today and maybe beyond. We are always listening to what others have to say and we are paying attention to the other deals that are going on. It’s always tough when there’s movement in a locker room, so something would have to wow us or really make a big difference for us going forward.”
The 2020 Memorial Cup host Kelowna Rockets have been making a number of big moves in the last couple of weeks, as they dealt three picks to acquire Florida Panthers prospect and overage forward Matthew Wedman from the Thunderbirds and picked up Edmonton Oil Kings overage blueliner Conner McDonald for two picks.
The other major move ahead of the Christmas roster freeze saw the Medicine Hat Tigers acquire forward Lukas Svejkovsky and overage defender Dylan Plouffe from the Vancouver Giants for overage forward Tyler Preziuso and blueliner Trevor Longo.
“I think everyone is holding their cards pretty close at the moment,” Hunt said.
“We saw a first and a third round pick get dealt by the Rockets for an overage defender last weekend, but does that reset the market? It’s hard to say.
“Sometimes when you give up picks, that’s because you are not in a real hurry to give up roster players, but hopefully it’s a deal that works out for Kelowna as they represent the league at the Memorial Cup…where we will hopefully be joining them.”
The WHL trade deadline is at 3 p.m. Mountain time on Friday, Jan. 10.
Raiders acquire Culling from Broncos
The Raiders were the first team to dip their toes into the trade waters following the holiday break on Friday morning as they picked up 18-year-old forward Matthew Culling from the Swift Current Broncos in exchange for 18-year-old forward Cole Nagy.
“We know Matthew very well,” Hunt said in a statement. “He provides speed and tenacity in our lineup and can support our secondary scoring.”
Culling, who spent two seasons with his hometown Regina Pat Canadians of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League before making the jump up to the WHL, was originally a 10th round pick by the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2016 and was acquired by the Broncos in August 2018.
He has four points in 31 games this year and put up 21 points in 68 contests during the 2018-19 campaign, which put him seventh in team scoring.
Nagy, who is from Saskatoon, had four points in 25 games for the Raiders after a 65-point season for the SMAAAHL’s Saskatoon Blazers.