With more information on the Western Hockey League’s Return to Play plans being announced on Thursday morning, there’s a sense of excitement around the Prince Albert Raiders’ office.
“It’s certainly nice to get the news that there is now a start date of Oct. 2,” Raiders business manager Michael Scissons said. “It’s definitely a relief for everyone to have that return date out there as we’re all looking for positive news as we look to get back to what we all enjoyed doing prior to COVID-19.
“Obviously there will be some precautions and safety measures that will need to be put in place before the season starts, but it’s nice for everyone to know that hockey will be back this year.”
One of the biggest changes that the Raiders will have this year, whenever it begins, will be with the number of fans that are at the Art Hauser Centre.
During Thursday’s virtual press conference, WHL commissioner Ron Robison said that the league is looking at having a 50 per cent capacity in their facilities when the season begins and would consider delaying the start of the campaign if teams can’t reach an attendance level that will allow them to operate.
“It’s obviously a challenge,” Scissons said. “We’ve talked ad nauseam about how we believe that we have the greatest facility in the league in terms of our atmosphere and everyone has seen what a full house brings to our rink during the last couple of years.
“When you look at the size of our arena, the 50 per cent capacity does create some challenges. If you go down the highway in Saskatoon, where they have 15,000 seats (at the SaskTel Centre), that 50 per cent number would get them to what their average attendance is, which is great for the Blades.
“Obviously, there are a lot more challenges on our end here and we’re working through that process now. We’re throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks in terms of spacing and limitation, and we’ll continue to work with the staff at the Art Hauser Centre and the City of Prince Albert as we try to find that balance.”
Since the 2019-20 season came to an early end in March, the Raiders have been busy behind the scenes with discussions with other teams and the league office about what comes next.
“I don’t think I have been involved in more group discussions at any point during my 18 years in the league,” Scissions said. “There have been calls with the board of governors, business managers and the general managers on a weekly basis.
“I know from the business side of things, every organization has been given the chance to connect and bounce ideas off of one another, and I think that’s really going to help all of us out as we head into the future.”
The 2020-21 season will be a big one for the Raiders organization, as they will be celebrating their 50th campaign.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in one major change to their plans, however, as their 22nd annual golf classic will not be taking place on Aug. 12 and 13 at the Cooke Municipal Golf Course.
“We had a number of alumni that were planning to come back for that event and we’ve already been in contact with them to let them know that we’ve pushed it back to 2021,” Scissons said.
“Ideally, it’s now the perfect way to wrap up our 50th season and hopefully we will have another WHL trophy and the Memorial Cup in attendance for that.”
Season tickets for the 2020-21 campaign have been on sale since the end of March, with approximately 35 to 40 per cent of the packages being sold as of Thursday.
“From our conversations that we’ve had with our season ticket holders, they’ve expressed their desire to return when it’s safe and healthy for everyone to attend,” Scissons said.
“We’ve extended our early bird deadline to July 31, as we were waiting for an announcement from the league as to when they would be returning, and we’ll continue to work with the guidelines that the SHA, CHL and WHL are all setting out for us.”
The Raiders are asking fans that have any questions about the upcoming season to contact the team office at 306-764-5348.