Hildebrand in midst of breakout season in Raider crease

Herald file photo. Prince Albert Raiders netminder Max Hildebrand is on pace to shatter his career highs in all major statistics at the halfway point of the WHL campaign.

It’s been a career year in the Raider crease for Max Hildebrand.

The 19-year-old netminder is on pace to shatter his career highs in all major statistics at the halfway point of the WHL campaign.

Raider head coach Jeff Truitt says Hildebrand has grown every season since he arrived in Hockeytown North

“I like the improvement from last year. Every year that he’s been here the next year, he’s getting better and better. He puts in a ton of work with Kelly (Guard). He’s an athlete by nature, being a great baseball player. That competitiveness is all around him, he’s a huge competitor. He’s intense. He wants to win. He cares.”

As of the holiday break, Hildebrand has appeared in 20 games for the Raiders posting a record of 11-7-0-1 on the season with a 2.65 Goals Against Average and a .918 save percentage.

Hildebrand sits eighth in the WHL in Goal Against Average, tied for 11th in wins and tied for fourth in save percentage. His 11 wins also tie Hildebrand’s career high in victories, which was set last season.

Hildebrand credits his strong start to the season and his goaltending coach Kelly Guard for his success.

“I think I had a pretty good start to the season and then missed a few weeks with that injury. But I’ve started to get back into things here and starting to feeling good with my game again.”

“I think me, and Kelly Guard have worked a lot on my skating, quickness, reading the play, but I also think my mental game has come a long way since I got to Prince Albert and just having that mindset of being a starter in this league.”

Hildebrand was originally selected by the Raiders in the 13th round of the 2019 WHL Prospects Draft 286th overall. He was the second last player to be selected in the 2019 Prospects Draft and the latest pick from the draft class to play a WHL game.

Truitt says Hildebrand brings the right mix of athleticism and competitiveness to the goaltending position.

“Physically, I mean from year one to now, he’s gotten more flexible. He’s understood the pace that this game takes. His reaction is real quick, but the natural athleticism is what separates him and he looks comfortable in there. As an athlete, he’s making saves away from the standard positioning. He controls his rebounds very well. I think his mental focus has always been one of competitiveness and focus. He wants to win, he cares an awful lot about winning and wants to be the difference.”

Hildebrand was a multi-sport athlete growing up, also playing baseball in his hometown of Martensville. Hildebrand says playing baseball helped him become a better goaltender.

“I always believed in being a multi-sport athlete. Playing baseball and stuff was good for anyone, but I think especially as a goalie, catching, hitting, hand-eye coordination and stuff like that. I was a first basemen but I threw left-handed so I caught with my opposite hand then I do in hockey so it’s a little weird but it was good.”

During his time on the diamond, Hildebrand was also a left-handed hitter.

At the holiday break, the Raiders sit with a 17-15-0-2 record and sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference just two points behind the Moose Jaw Warriors who sit in third place.

Hildebrand says the Raiders have a goal of playing with home ice advantage and securing a playoff position.

“It’s going to be a push to get the best playoff spot possible. We want home ice advantage, and we want these fans behind us when we get into the playoffs. So that’s a big goal for us and honestly for me just help this team win and give us a chance every night.”

The Raiders return to action on Dec. 27 when they travel to take on the Saskatoon Blades. Puck drops at 7 p.m.