Family Feud: Blade-Raider series extra special for Hildebrand

Photo courtesy of X/@Hildebrand30. Prince Albert Raider netminder Max Hildebrand (left) poses for a photo with his father Steve (right) before a game in Saskatoon earlier this season.

Most hockey goalie parents will always root for their child’s team, but Steve Hildebrand isn’t your average hockey parent.

Steve Hildebrand is the assistant general manager of the Saskatoon Blades. His son Max is the star netminder for Saskatoon’s biggest rival, the Prince Albert Raiders.

Max Hildebrand had a breakout season in Hockeytown North in 2023-24. In 51 games, Max recorded a 25-20-2-2 record, a .907 save percentage and a 2.88 Goals Against Average. All were career highs and in the top 10 amongst all WHL netminders.

Max was the second last player selected in the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft, as the Raiders selected the Martensville product in the 13th round, 286th overall.

Steve says he was happy to see Max become the bonafide number one goaltender for the Raiders this season.

“I’m super proud of him. He’s earned every bit of it. He works hard every day at his craft and keeps getting better. Ever since minor hockey from when he was drafted in the 13th round, he was the second last pick of the draft. He’s proven people wrong the whole way and that doesn’t come without working hard. His off-season last year was fantastic. I think he knows that he has to grind and compete every day to get better. He’s put the time and effort in to have a great season. For me as a father, that’s what you want to see in your children, and I’m super proud of him.”

The Raiders and Blades kick off their first round playoff series at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Thursday night.

As any hockey goalie parent can relate, it’s never easy to watch your child play the position. The case is especially true for Steve, as he wants the Blades to prevail in the series but hopes Max plays well.

“They’re not easy. There’s no blueprint for this, right?” Steve says. “I’ve worked for this club for 22 years and we have the same ultimate goals. I know he’s going to be motivated for this series and I wouldn’t expect anything less from him. His best attribute is his competitiveness. He’ll compete and I think that’s what he’s done and he’s given the Raiders a chance to win every night. For me as a father watching, I’m super proud. As a manager, it’s hard. It’s difficult. It’s not easy. There’s no right answer to this. I think it’s something that we’ll look back on five (to) ten years from now and see how cool and unique this was.”
With the entire Hildebrand family sharing the same competitive nature, Max says he and his dad are both in understanding about the nature of the sport they both have a hand in and they will support the other regardless of the outcome.

“My dad said whoever wins he’s going to be proud of me either way. If both of our end goals is to win a championship, either I got to take him out or he’s got to take me out. Whoever wins, (we) will be proud of each other and we both worked so hard to get to this point. It’s going be a good series.”

Even with Steve’s tenure of over 20 years with the Blades organization, he will be the only one in the Hildebrand household supporting Saskatoon in the series.

Max’s mom Krista, along with his younger sister Mya and the rest of the extended Hildebrand family will all be showing their support for Max and the Raiders.

“There’s a lot of green in the household.” Steve says. We’ve already had the conversation about the playoffs, we’re a competitive family. We all still love and care about each other. But in this scenario, which is very unique and different, they’ll be cheering for the Raiders and I’ll be the lone wolf in the series. That’s fine, that’s love. At the end of the day, I do wish them nothing but the best. We’ll shake hands at the end of the series one way or another.”

When he was younger, Max was often Steve’s shadow at the rink. He was often in the Blades dressing room with his dad and grew up idolizing Saskatoon’s players.

Even though he now plays for a rival team, Max says his dad has been important to his success at the WHL level.

“It’s super nice. He wears a lot of different jackets. He can be my dad or he could coach me. He was a part of pro hockey for a few years and then he has experience at many different levels. It really helps. When I don’t want to ask someone here, I always have him to lean back on and stuff like that. It’s been really big for me.”

Max Hildebrand is one of six players on the Raider roster who played in the team’s last playoff appearance in 2021-22, a five game first round loss to the top seeded Winnipeg ICE. Max says he is hoping to use that loss as motivation heading into this year’s playoffs.

“We’re all fired up. There’s a lot of guys in here with not much playoff experience, including myself. I got to play coming off the bench against Winnipeg, but that didn’t go the way we wanted to. The guys that were part of that team remember that.”

Game 1 of the first round playoff series between Prince Albert and Saskatoon is on Thursday night at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. Puck drops at 7 p.m.