The 2018-19 WHL championship season will always be a great memory, but it is now a long way back in the rearview mirror for the Prince Albert Raiders.
When the Raiders take the ice for their regular season opener hosting their archrivals the Saskatoon Blades at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre, they will do so without any players in the lineup who were regulars in the run to the 2018-19 WHL title. This will mark the first time the Raiders will start a regular season without any regulars from that campaign.
Star 19-year-old defenceman Nolan Allan did play seven regular season games in 2018-19, while overage right-winger Evan Herman played three regular season contests during that hockey year. Both skated as associate player call-ups.
The Raiders players on the team’s roster this season are truly writing their own story in the club’s history books. When you add in the fact legendary WHL head coach Marc Habscheid departed the team in July to become the first head coach of the Bemer Pioneers Vorarlberg located in Feldkirch, Austria, it really feels like a new era.
The current Raiders do have some key continuity from the 2018-19 season the club can lean on as the 2022-23 campaign progresses. Curtis Hunt is still the team’s general manager.
Jeff Truitt was an assistant coach in 2018-19 and was promoted to head coach when Habscheid left for Austria. Mark Odnokon is still the skills coach and Duane “Puff” Bartley has been the athletic therapist since the start of the 2001-02 campaign.
The 2021-22 season was a reload, reset or transition type campaign for the Raiders. They squeaked into the playoffs with a 28-35-4-1 record to finish eighth in the Eastern Conference. In a best-of-seven first round series, the Raiders fell 4-1 to the powerful Winnipeg Ice, who are expected to be one of the WHL’s top clubs again this season.
As the Raiders go through the 2021-22 campaign, they are going to find out who will be “the guys” or clutch players. That will likely be one of the more exciting things to watch for this season.
The Raiders do have some faces back who were clutch players last season most notably Allan and Herman. Allan, who is in training camp with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, posted seven goals, 34 assists and a minus-four rating logging substantial minutes in 65 regular season appearances last season. Herman had a breakout campaign leading the Raiders with 28 goals to go with 19 assists suiting up in all of the Raiders 68 regular season games.
Rearguard Landon Kosior, who is Allan’s defensive partner, is back for his 20-year-old season. Last season, Kosior topped the Raiders in defenceman scoring with 45 points coming off 18 goals and 27 assists to go with a minus-four rating. Like Herman, Kosior skated in all of the Raiders 68 regular season games.
Right-winger Sloan Stanick came over early last season in a trade with the Regina Pats. In 66 regular season games played between both clubs, Stanick posted 22 goals, 27 assists and a plus-two rating.
Belarusian 18-year-old import netminder Tikhon Chaika took on the role as the Raiders starter as a rookie last season. He posted solid numbers with a 22-21-4 record, a 2.79 goals against average, a .904 save percentage and three shutouts.
After that group of five, Raiders followers wait to see who will make great strides in 2022-23 to become prime time players. Could 18-year-old right-winger Carson Latimer be on the cusp of a big season or will 18-year-old right-winger Jesiah Bennett have a breakout season coming over in an off-season trade with the Brandon Wheat Kings?
On defence, will returnees like 19-year-old Tayem Gislason or 17-year-old Terrell Goldsmith be towers of strength?
Competition in the Eastern Conference will be stiff, but the Raiders have the pieces to be in the mix when the post-season comes around. Optimism is always high at the start of a campaign.
As is the nature with major junior hockey, time will reveal how special the season can possibly be.
Supporting WHL Belarusian vets important
As WHL season begins, the 2022-23 campaign will still not be a normal one for the Belarusian and Russian players returning to teams in the CHL’s three circuits, which includes the WHL.
Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the support of Belarus for the Russian cause, most of the Belarusian and Russian players in the CHL elected not to return home in the off-season. In many cases, these veteran players don’t know when or if they will ever go home because of the instability in that part of the world, and their families have been left behind in their home countries.
For the Raiders, both their imports in 19-year-old centre Vladislav Shilo and Chaika are from Belarus, and they remained in Canada. Chaika helped coach young puck stoppers at NorSask Hockey Development Camp sessions in August.
In Saskatoon, Blades 18-year-old left-winger Egor Sidorov is also a Belarusian, and he elected to remain in “The Bridge City.” Sidorov is one of the Blades most popular players among the team’s fan base.
Both the Raiders and Blades have been working with the Government of Canada to ensure their Belarusian players can stay in the country. All three players have great billet families, who have now become a bigger part of their lives.
During the season, every player will have times they struggle. When eventual struggles do hit the veteran Belarusian and Russian players in the CHL, it is good to be mindful of the life situations they are dealing with off the ice and try to stay as supportive as possible.
They have no control of what will happen to their lives as a result of the war caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.