Raiders start season against Pats on Friday in Regina
There’s no official stat in the Western Hockey League record book about the longest gap between a player’s first two games in the circuit.
However, Prince Albert Raiders rookie defenceman Graydon Gotaas might have a claim to that honour.
The Camrose, Alta. product made his debut for the club on March 8 in Winnipeg during a 3-0 loss against the Ice, in what proved to be the last game of the 2019-20 season for the Raiders prior to COVID-19 shutdown.
Almost a year later, the recently turned 17-year-old and the rest of his teammates are gearing up to play once again as they’ll face the Regina Pats on Friday at 8 p.m. and the Moose Jaw Warriors at 8 p.m. to start their stint in the East Division hub at the Brandt Centre in Regina.
“It’s definitely a little strange how it all turned out,” Gotaas said. “I think that extended break was good for me, along with all the other rookies looking to make the jump up to the league, as I had a chance to build up my strength and work on my speed and explosiveness.
“It also helped me a lot to have that experience of playing in a WHL game last year. I got to see the speed of the game, how the players talk to each other on the bench and what their responsibilities and roles are. It really helped me to understand what my role would be coming into this season and how I could take a page out of their books and put it into mine.”
Gotaas, who will don the number eight jersey that was last worn by former captain Brayden Pachal, had a busy 2019-20 season prior to signing with the Raiders last March.
He had 14 points in 26 games for the Sherwood Park Kings in the Alberta Midget Hockey League, suited up four times as an underage player in the Alberta Junior Hockey League for the Bonnyville Pontiacs and was named to the tournament all-star team at the WHL Cup for his performance with Team Alberta.
“It was definitely a huge season for me and one that I learned a lot from,” Gotaas said. “The coaching staffs and my teammates helped me out a lot on all of those teams.”
A second round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft, Gotaas knew about the team from his uncle Steve, who had 314 points in 266 games for the Raiders from 1983 to 1987 and played in 49 NHL contests over three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Minnesota North Stars.
He also learned a lot about the organization from former Raider and current Belleville Senators forward Parker Kelly, who shares the same hometown as Gotaas.
“Parker told me that this was the best to play and there was no hesitation to come here after I heard that,” Gotaas said.
Although his Art Hauser Centre debut will have to wait until next season, Gotaas is excited to get things rolling in his rookie campaign.
“There’s a real energy at the rink right now for all of us as there’s nothing else we’d rather be doing,” said Gotaas, who describes himself as a shutdown defenceman with an offensive touch.
“We’ve been executing a lot more in practice as the week has gone on and we’re ready to get the season started.”
The other rookies on this year’s Raiders roster are forwards Logan Linklater and Niall Crocker, along with blueliners Adam McNutt and Tayem Gislason.
Of that group, Gotaas is the only player to have suited up for a WHL regular season game.
The Raiders announced this week that a Kaiden Guhle bobblehead, which includes him wearing a Montreal Canadiens draft day cap, will be available for $10 each at Mann-Northway Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac from 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday.
The team will be announcing two more bobbleheads as part of their 50th season at a later date.
Meanwhile, Aliaksei Protas and Ilya Usau’s seasons with Dinamo Minsk came to an end on Wednesday as their team lost in five games to SKA Saint Petersburg in the opening round of the KHL playoffs.
Protas, who is a signed prospect of the Washington Capitals, had 10 goals and eight assists in 58 regular season games and had a goal and three assists in the playoffs.
Usau recorded three goals and three assists in 56 regular season contests, in addition to a goal and two assists in the playoffs.
The Raiders held a 9-3 advantage over the Pats during the last two seasons, but they lost their last two meetings at the Brandt Centre.
Their most recent matchup came on Feb. 18, 2020 as the Raiders posted a 5-2 win at the Art Hauser Centre.
Forwards Kyle Crosbie and Logan Danis could make their debuts for the Raiders on Friday after they signed with the club on Feb. 22.
Crosbie has played 116 WHL games during the last three years with the Kelowna Rockets and Moose Jaw Warriors, while Danis suited up for 25 contests with the Winnipeg Ice last season.
Barring something unforeseen, highly-touted forward Connor Bedard is expected to make his WHL debut on Friday for the Pats.
The first overall pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft, Bedard is the first player to be granted exceptional status and enter the league a year early.
The other rookies on the Pats roster this season are forwards Colby Wotton, Easton Armstrong and Braxton Whitehead, blueliners Jacob DeWitt, Marcus Taylor, Parker Berge and Layton Feist, plus goaltenders Matthew Kieper and Spencer Welke.
Welke, who is a former member of the Prince Albert Mintos, suited up for the Pats last year, along with Armstrong, Taylor, Berge, Feist and Kieper.
Two other new faces in the Pats lineup are defenceman Tom Cadieux and goaltender Roddy Ross, who were acquired from the Tri-City Americans and the Seattle Thunderbirds during the off-season.
- Brandon vs. Moose Jaw – 4 p.m.
- Prince Albert vs. Regina – 8 p.m.
- Lethbridge vs. Red Deer – 8 p.m.
- Medicine Hat vs. Calgary – 8:30 p.m.
- Saskatoon vs. Swift Current – 4 p.m.
- Red Deer vs. Lethbridge – 7 p.m.
- Winnipeg vs. Brandon – 8 p.m.
- Calgary vs. Medicine Hat – 8 p.m.
- Regina vs. Saskatoon – 4 p.m.
- Lethbridge vs. Red Deer – 6 p.m.
- Medicine Hat vs. Calgary – 7 p.m.
- Moose Jaw vs. Prince Albert – 8 p.m.
- Swift Current vs. Winnipeg – 8 p.m.
Friday, March 5 Scores
- Edmonton 4 Medicine Hat 2 (Dylan Guenther – Two Goals)
- Calgary 2 Red Deer 0 (Brayden Peters – 27 Saves – First Career Shutout)
Saturday, March 6 Scores
- Red Deer 3 Calgary 2 (Arshdeep Bains Overtime Winner – Ben King – One Goal and One Assist)
- Edmonton 3 Medicine Hat 1 (Sebastian Cossa – 18 Saves)