Hodgson night showed Raiders past cherished in P.A.

Photo by Darren Steinke. Dan Hodgson signs an autograph for a young fan during the second intermission of Saturday's game at the Art Hauser Centre. Hodgson's number 16 was retired prior to the game.

Some of the most fun sights of Dan Hodgson’s jersey retirement night have occurred during his second intermission autograph session.

Last Saturday, the Raiders retired the #16 of their iconic centre during a pre-game ceremony before a 6-3 WHL regular season setback against the Moose Jaw Warriors before 2,504 spectators at the Art Hauser Centre. During the second intermission, Hodgson signed autographs for fans in the hallway that runs alongside the Ches Leach Lounge.

The lengthy line contained a number of children under the age of 10, who were super excited to get an autograph from the 58-year-old Raiders legend. At that moment, the thought that crosses the mind that these kids could be the children or possibly grandchildren of people who watched Hodgson play for the Raiders from 1982 to 1985.

Those children likely learned about Hodgson’s exploits from their parents or grandparents. If their parents or grandparents didn’t see Hodgson play, those children likely learned about Hodgson’s days with the Raiders from someone in Prince Albert.

That was a cool realization to come across, because Hodgson’s era with the Raiders happened 40 years ago. Hodgson’s last game with the Raiders came on May 18, 1985, when they won the Memorial Cup championship game 6-1 over the tournament hosts the Shawinigan Cataracts in Drummondville, Que., to become CHL champions. The 40th anniversary of that contest is about 18 months away.

Still, the children that came seeking Hodgson’s autograph were excited to meet him like they were meeting Ryder Ritchie, Sloan Stanick, Terrell Goldsmith or any of the current members of the Raiders.

In junior hockey, it takes the collective effort of the community a team is in to preserve the memories of the club’s past. Highlights of junior hockey aren’t run on a daily basis of major sports networks in Canada like TSN and Sportsnet, where inevitably the histories of those teams in the highlights are told.

It is way easier to find out the past exploits of Canada’s seven NHL clubs than it is for squads in the junior ranks. In Canada, it is easy for memories of even the country’s successful sports teams to fade into the abyss over the course of time.

The Raiders have a storied past in P.A., and memories of that past are fairly well preserved. Raiders alums that return to Prince Albert are often pleasantly surprised to find out how well they are remembered.

As far as the history of the Raiders is concerned, Hodgson will go down as the greatest and most important player in that history. He played for the Raiders during their first three seasons in the WHL.

The Raiders left the SJHL and the junior A ranks after winning their fourth Centennial Cup as national champions at that level in 1981-82. They posted an impressive 57-3 record during their final regular season in the SJHL.

Led by head coach and general manager Terry Simpson, the Raiders were ready for a new challenge. The Raiders paid $175,000 in expansion fees to join the WHL and move up to the major junior ranks.

They paid $100,000 for the player list of the Spokane Flyers, who ceased operation after 26 games in the 1981-82 campaign. That list included Hodgson, Dale McFee, Dave Pasin and Emanual Viveiros, who were all key cornerstones in the Raiders WHL and CHL title wins in the 1984-85 campaign.

While there was a lot of excitement about the new era the Raiders were embarking on at the start of the 1982-83 season, there was some uncertainty too. There were concerns about how the Raiders would initially fare in the WHL.

During their 11 seasons in the SJHL, the Raiders never came close to having a losing record. They posted a mark of 16 wins, 55 losses and one tie in that first WHL campaign.

The faithful in Prince Albert continued to support the Raiders expecting things would turn around as there were too many good people involved with the club. What happened in 1982-83 was humbling, so no one was sure how long the wait would be for that turnaround to occur.

In what felt like a dark campaign, Hodgson was the shining light. The 17-year-old led the team with 130 points coming off 56 goals and 74 assists and was named the WHL rookie of the year.

His linemate and best friend in Pasin, who was a 16-year-old rookie, had 82 points coming on 40 goals and 42 assists. The presence of Hodgson and Pasin provided hope and excitement that they would be fun to watch in future seasons.

Hodgson in his speech during his jersey retirement night last Saturday credited players from the team’s SJHL era for playing a huge role in helping set and pass down the culture and standard for the team to take off in future WHL campaigns. He named Al Stewart, Warren Harper, Bob Lowes, Carl Van Camp, Perry Thomas and John Lamb who all played for the Raiders in their final SJHL season and came over with the club for the inaugural WHL campaign.

Photo by Darren Steinke. Dan Hodgson speaks during his number retirement ceremony at the Art Hauser Centre prior to Saturday night’s game.

Stewart played left wing on the Raiders top line with Hodgson and Pasin during the club’s first two WHL campaigns. Hodgson also gave shout outs to Raiders SJHL alums Robin Bartel, Dave Tippett, Brad Tippett and Mark Odnokon for helping out the team in 1982-83.

Bartel, the Tippetts and Odnokon were all recent SJHL grads at the time, but they all had links to Prince Albert and would make their way back to “Hockey Town North” to help the Raiders when they could. Odnokon is still a skill development coach with the Raiders and has frequently been a coach with the club over the decades.

Hodgson’s recognition of the SJHL players that came over to play with the club in the WHL and SJHL grads that came back to help the club was outstanding. There are times the contributions those players made in that maiden WHL campaign are forgotten.

In 1983-84, the Raiders made a huge leap forward finishing sixth overall in the WHL with a 41-29-2 mark. Hodgson again led the Raiders in scoring with 181 points coming off 62 goals and 119 assists.

Pasin was second in team scoring with 122 points coming off 68 goals and 54 assists, while Stewart was fifth in team scoring with 83 points coming off 44 goals and 39 assists. Hodgson played for Canada at world juniors that season too.

That set the stage for the magical 1984-85 campaign. The Raiders finished first overall in the WHL with a 58-11-3 mark. Between the WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament, the Raiders only lost two games in the 1985 post-season winning the WHL and CHL titles.

Hodgson again led the Raiders in regular season scoring with 182 points coming on 70 goals and 112 assists. Pasin was third in team scoring with 116 points coming off 64 goals and 52 assists.

Stewart graduated to the professional ranks following the 1983-84 campaign. Tony Grenier, who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Moose Jaw Warriors, replaced Stewart on the left wing of the line with Hodgson and Pasin. Grenier finished second in Raiders team scoring in 1984-85 with 120 points coming off 62 goals and 58 assists. Also in 1984-85, Hodgson played for Canada’s gold medal winner at world juniors, which was a squad that was coached by Simpson.

When looking back at that time from a distance, it is remarkable the Raiders were able to win WHL and CHL titles in just their third season in the major junior ranks. Hodgson, who was named the CHL MVP for the 1984-85 campaign, was the key figure that helped make it a reality that the Raiders could win it all in the major junior ranks and continue their storied tradition that was established during their SJHL era.

Following his time with the Raiders, Hodgson would play parts of four seasons in the NHL from 1985 to 1989 with the Toronto Maple Leafs for one campaign and the Vancouver Canucks for three seasons.

In total, Hodgson suited up for 114 career regular season games collecting 29 goals and 45 assists including playing 40 regular season games as a rookie with the Maple Leafs in 1985-85 posting 13 goals and 12 assists. Following the 1988-89 season, Hodgson would go on to play 16 more seasons professionally in Europe with most of that time being spent in Switzerland.

Most fans from NHL cities or fans of just pro-hockey don’t get the attachment junior hockey centres have with their teams. A lot of the time they don’t understand why a junior club would retire a number of a player that didn’t win the Stanley Cup multiple times at the NHL level.

In junior hockey centres, the fans always appreciate the players that became heroes with their clubs in their centres. In Prince Albert, Hodgson is to the Raiders what Wayne Gretzky is to the NHL’s Oilers in Edmonton.

In “Hockey Town North,” Hodgson will go down as the greatest Raider of them all and stories of his exploits will continue to be passed down to the younger generations to come.

Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at stankssermon.blogspot.com.