Dean McAmmond’s time in Prince Albert didn’t end the way he hoped, but that doesn’t mean he’s not excited to come back.
The longtime NHL veteran spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Raiders, the most productive coming in 1991-92 when he put up 91 points in 63 games for a Prince Albert squad that rolled over the Eastern Conference in the regular season.
The Raiders posted 50 wins that year under coach Mike Fedorko, and finished six points clear of the second place Medicine Hat Tigers for top spot in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
“We had a strong team,” McAmmond said during a phone interview from his home in Vernon, B.C. “Obviously, 50 wins says it all. We had six guys who were actually on the all-star team that year, and the all-star team wasn’t an east or west (conference) Western Hockey League team. It was an entire Western Hockey League all star team. It was east and west and we played the OHL and QMJHL conglomerate all-star group … so that says a lot to the kind of fire power we had.”
However, the Raiders’ season hit snag in the playoffs. After sweeping the Moose Jaw Warriors in round one, McAmmond and the Raiders found themselves with a long lay-off. Under the WHL playoff system at the time, Prince Albert’s first round victory earned them a second round bye while Saskatoon and Swift Current played a best-of-five series to determined who the Raiders would face in the conference finals.
Swift Current was coming off a first round sweep of the second place Tigers, while Saskatoon defeated the Lethbridge Hurricanes in five games. The Blades prevailed 3-1 in the best-of-five series, setting up a heavily anticipated conference final between two of the WHL’s biggest rivals.
Despite finishing 21 point ahead of Saskatoon in the standings, the Raiders suffered a bitter 4-2 loss in the best-of-seven match-up. Years later, McAmmond views the series as a lost opportunity.
“I think they just outworked us,” McAmmond said. “We should have done better that year. We swept Moose Jaw, I remember… and I think we had too much, maybe, complacency. Saskatoon, we should have beat them.”
Prince Albert Raiders fans had to wait until 2019 for a WHL championship, but for McAmmond, the wait was much shorter. The Raiders traded him to Swift Current 30 games into the ’92-93 season where the Broncos were gearing up for a run at the WHL title.
McAmmond excelled in the playoffs, posting 16 goals and 19 assists in 17 games as the top-seeded Broncos rolled to series victories over Medicine Hat and Regina before beating Portland in a seven-game WHL final.
Looking back on that season, McAmmond credits the lessons he learned in Prince Albert for helping him make the transition to the WHL’s smallest market.
“Just understanding the dynamics of a small town Western Hockey League team and how important it is to the community, it’s a pretty big deal,” he said. “Of course, PA’s not a big place and Swift Current’s even smaller. I’m older now, I think I understand a lot more now, but back then you pride yourself and understand that you’re not just playing for yourself. The community has been backing these teams for many, many, many years and to have an opportunity to perform in the playoffs and go to the Memorial Cup is a massive thing for these groups.
“I wish we would have won (the Memorial Cup) because it would just put a cherry on top, but still, we have people who remember that team from way back.”
McAmmond doesn’t travel to Saskatchewan much, but he made the trip to Swift Current last year when the Broncos held a celebration to honour the ’92-93 championship team. While there, he made the trip up to Prince Albert to visit a few friends and his old billets.
“It’s kind of a rare occasion,” he said. “Last year I did come up for the one program in Swift, and I thought, ‘if I’m that close, I’m going to bomb up to PA’ just because I don’t get that way very much.
“I didn’t play with Huntsy (Raiders GM Curtis Hunt) but he coached me in Ottawa briefly. My brother played with him, so it’s nice to see him, and Mark Odnokon…. It’s nice to go back because it’s a big part of my life. Those people are a part of it and it’s nice to reconnect and see how they’re doing. It kinds of brings it back to a reality.”
McAmmond plans to be in the Prince Albert area again this week. He’s headed to Nipawin to speak at the club’s Faith Night on Feb. 3 when the Hawks face the Melfort Mustangs.
During his time in the NHL, McAmmond helped start team chapel programs in Edmonton and Colorado, and joined the already established chapel program in Ottawa. He said his faith is the one thing in his life that played a bigger role than hockey, so when clubs like the Hawks give him a chance to speak about it, he’s always happy to do so.
“I know here in Vernon we do have a BCHL team, the Vipers, and they have a faith night as well, McAmmond said. “I’ve never done anything officially there, but I do help out with the chapel program here in Vernon. I’ve been doing that for about five or six years. I just go attend and see a lot of familiar faces around town….
“Over my career there’s been great parts and there’s been struggles. Really what we do is just bring a balance to life and share how our faith has been important to us, given us hope, and also that there’s something behind our faith. It’s not just an empty hope and it’s not just an empty belief.”