While the amount of spectators that will be allowed in the Art Hauser Centre for the start of the 2020-21 Western Hockey League campaign has yet to be determined, the opponents that will be squaring off with the Prince Albert Raiders should excite the local fan base.
The league announced on Wednesday that the club will only face East Division opponents during the regular season, which will feature the Brandon Wheat Kings, Moose Jaw Warriors, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, Winnipeg Ice and a Swift Current Broncos side that will move from a Central Division that will only feature Alberta-based sides.
“I think we’re in as good of a situation as we can be, especially with teams that our fans are already familiar with and have some angst against, especially with Saskatoon and the meetings that we’ve had in the playoffs with Moose Jaw over the last few years,” Raiders business manager Michael Scissons said on Thursday.
“We’ll also get to see the hometown boy (and New York Rangers first round pick) Braden Schneider a lot more with Brandon and we’re also going to see two really exciting young players with Connor Bedard in Regina and Matthew Savoie in Winnipeg.”
The number of home contests that the Raiders will have and their exact dates has yet to be finalized, as the league schedule is still being set up and is not expected to be announced until later next month.
What the club does know is that their slate, which will run from Jan. 8 to May 2 and could be as long as 50 games, will have to be flexible with other events at the Art Hauser Centre, such as the home schedules for the Prince Albert Mintos and the Prince Albert Northern Bears.
“It’s an interesting time for sure and I’m sure the general managers are going to be discussing the dates for each of the buildings here next week,” Scissons said. “There were some dates that we had a tentative hold on during this whole process and those remain in place as we work through this process with the City of Prince Albert.
“We’re lucky enough to share this facility with the Bears and the Mintos and it’s outstanding to see that they’ve been given the green light as well to resume play here over the next few weeks.”
Scissions also believes that the firm start date should lead to an increase in excitement around the Raiders ahead of the new season, especially after Kaiden Guhle and Ozzy Wiesblatt were both selected in the first round of last week’s NHL Draft and could be on the radar for Canada’s World Junior team, which is expected to play in a bubble at Edmonton’s Rogers Place over Christmas.
“I was on a call today with four other teams around the league and we all saw our social media channels get a lot of attention when the WHL made their announcement on Wednesday,” Scissons said.
“People want to see WHL hockey come back and a lot of communities thrive on having junior hockey. As we get closer to that Jan. 8 start date, it will almost be like having Christmas again as we get ready to drop the puck.”