Hunt keeping busy during extended off-season

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Prince Albert Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt speaks to the media following the 2019 WHL Trade Deadline.

Raiders preparing for Tuesday’s Import Draft

Although the 2019-20 season came to a sudden halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not much has changed in the hockey operations department for the Prince Albert Raiders.

“It’s obviously not the same, but we’ve been relatively busy,” Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt said. “We’ve been in communication with everyone on our 50-man and have allowed them to get a hold of (strength and conditioning coach) Terry Lange, (senior advisor of player development and analytics) Mark Maloney and (skills coach) Mark Odnokon. Terry’s done a great job of keeping everyone informed and what they can do to keep their fitness up, especially when the gyms weren’t open.

“Habby (head coach Marc Habscheid) has been committed to trying to get around Western Canada as much as he can within the provincial and social distancing guidelines, while I’ve been e-mailing players to update everyone on what’s going on, such as with the WHL’s Return to Play Protocol.”

When the WHL announced the end of the campaign in late March, the Raiders had 36-18-6-4 record and held a five-point advantage over the Winnipeg Ice in first place in the East Division.

“The cancellation of the season was sad and shocking, but it was necessary,” Hunt said.

“It was tough for the kids though, especially the overagers (such as graduating Raiders Zack Hayes, Jeremy Masella and Brayden Watts). Our group was feeling really good about each other and getting back to the post-season. We were on a nice little run there going into the playoffs before the year ended.”

While they haven’t been able to take to the ice since early March, the team has received a lot of positive news over the last couple of months.

They have been able to sign 2020 draft picks Terrell Goldsmith and Harrison Lodewyk to standard player agreements, while Kaiden Guhle, Nolan Allan and incoming rookie Niall Crocker have all received invites to Hockey Canada summer camps.

“We also have four players (Guhle, Ozzy Wiesblatt, Landon Kosior and Ilya Usau) that are being mentioned for this year’s NHL Draft and we’ve been talking with a number of teams about them over the last couple of months,” Hunt said.

CHL Import Draft

The next major event for the club is on Tuesday at 9 a.m., when the Canadian Hockey League holds their annual Import Draft.

“I think there a couple of challenges that comes with this year’s draft,” Hunt said. “Player safety is very important right now and we understand that we are asking parents to allow their child to cross the ocean. You look at someone like Alex (Aliaksei Protas) who came here at 17 and then you have someone like Ilya who was 14 when he came to the United States. It’s obviously tough for those families.

“The other challenge is where everyone is currently in regards to returning to play. They’ve kept going over in Belarus and other leagues are still working on when they are coming back. If the leagues in Europe start before us, what does that going to mean in terms of being released (from their contracts in Europe) to come and play in North America. Once you start with a team, they become your family for the year.”

While the Raiders hold the 45th and 105th overall selections, Hunt is currently planning to make only one pick on Tuesday.

Protas is slated to return to Prince Albert for his third campaign, while the club had released 19-year-old forward Daniil Stepanov after he had nine points in 45 games following an early season trade with the Moose Jaw Warriors.”

“We can draft two players since Alex is signed by the Washington Capitals, but at this point we’re going to use our first round pick and see where things go,” Hunt said.

“The Import Draft falls more on my plate, but we’ve been having group conversations with some of our regional scouts and (director of player personnel) Curt Brownlee whenever I get video of a player so that we can check off all of our boxes.”

The Raiders selected Russian forward Ivan Kechkin with the 60th overall pick in 2019, but he was released by the club after three games.

The Ontario Hockey League’s North Bay Battalion will have the first overall selection, with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan and the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos rounding out the top three.

CHL Abuse Allegations

With more allegations coming out from former players about having to deal with abuse during their time in major junior hockey, the Canadian Hockey League announced on Friday that they are putting together an independent review panel.

“We are deeply troubled by the allegations in the recently announced class action, many of which are historic in nature and we believe are not indicative of the leading experience our players receive in the CHL today,” the CHL said in a prepared statement. “Regardless of the timing, we are taking the claims very seriously as the protection of our players has been and will always be our primary concern.

“Yesterday (Thursday), the CHL Board of Directors unanimously agreed to the appointment of an Independent Review Panel to thoroughly review the current policies and practices in our leagues that relate to hazing, abuse, harassment and bullying and the allegation that players do not feel comfortable reporting behaviours that contravene these policies. A chair of this panel will be announced in the coming weeks and our goal is to have the review process completed in time for the start of the 2020-21 season. We welcome the findings of the Independent Review Panel to ensure we are providing the safest player experience in hockey and amateur sport.”

The statement from the CHL came a week after former players Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of players who were “sexually and physically assaulted, hazed and otherwise abused while away from home and playing for CHL teams.”