Pace of play important for Raiders heading into pre-season

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Eric Pearce attempts to move Keaton Sorenson off the puck before he can take a shot at goaltender Kaiden Kirkwood during the Prince Albert Raiders training camp.

The tone of the Prince Albert Raiders’ training camp was set in stone last Wednesday at the Art Hauser Centre as the team held their first on-ice practice since the conclusion of the 2021 East Division Hub in Regina.

“We did things a little bit differently this year before we had our scrimmages,” Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt said. “‘Truey’ (Jeff Truitt), ‘Mac’ (Ryan(McDonald) and Doan (Smith) went out there with ‘Guardo’ (Kelly Guard) went out there and ran a practice, which was pretty typical to what you would see in the middle of the season with a good tempo and going quickly into the next drill.

“Even the veteran guys were saying ‘oh my goodness, that was pretty intense,’ but I think it was a good thing for the young guys to see right away and get into their mind about the pace that we like to play at.”

That fast-paced style was also evident during the team’s scrimmages on Thursday and Friday, in addition to their Green and White intrasquad game on Saturday afternoon.

“I thought the on-ice portion of the training camp got gradually better, more intense and crisper as the weekend went on,” Hunt said. “It looked a little bit like keep away in the neutral zone at first, but as the games went on there was a much better pace and a good compete level.

“We’re really with how the veterans led the way within their respective teams, especially with showing an example for the younger guys during the on-ice practices and during our fitness tests.”

Another highlight for Hunt was having fans back in the stands in the Art Hauser Centre to see the Raiders for the first time since March 2020, when the Western Hockey League campaign was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league resumed play last March, but the Raiders played all 24 of their East Division games in the Brandt Centre with no spectators.

“It was great to be in the building again, especially on Saturday when you had the horn going off for the goals in the Green and White game,” Hunt said. “It was a pretty awesome feeling, especially for our older players who have so many great memories of playing here.

“To see the Raiders faithful come back and have that buzz around town again is great to see as we get ready for our regular season opener at home against Regina on Oct. 1.”

Before the Raiders can kick off the 2021-22 campaign, they have four pre-season contests to play in, with the first taking place on Friday at the Art Hauser Centre when the Regina Pats come to town for a 7 p.m. matchup.

“We had a team building exercise on Sunday and then we’ll get back to work in practice this week,” Hunt said.

“We’re going to be focussing on the aspects of our systems that allow us to play our game at that the high standards we’re used to here and what it means to play ‘The Raider Way,’ which has given us so much success.”

While a pre-season roster has yet to be announced by the Raiders, it is expected that they will have a younger lineup for the start of exhibition play as forwards Ozzy Wiesblatt (San Jose Sharks) and Reece Vitelli (Arizona Coyotes) will be at National Hockey League camps, along with blueliners Kaiden Guhle (Montreal Canadiens), Nolan Allan (Chicago Blackhawks) and Landon Kosior (Los Angeles Kings).

“Our practices are always open so the fans are welcome to come watch and speculate,” Hunt said. “That’s part of the fun at this time of year as everyone talks around the water cooler about the new season.

“We’ve got some decisions to make and with the guys going to NHL camp it will allow our younger players to have an opportunity to show what they can do, especially as they go up against opponents who are as desperate as they are to try and make their club.”

WHL Pre-Season Scores

Friday, Sept. 10

  • Portland 5 Seattle 1 (Dawson Pasternak – One Goal and Two Assists – Game held in Everett)
  • Everett 2 Spokane 0 (Koen MacInnes – 27 Saves)
  • Regina 5 Winnipeg 4 (Zack Stringer – One Goal and One Assist)

Saturday, Sept. 11

  • Spokane 4 Seattle 3 (Blake Swetikoff Shootout Winner – Sam Oremba – Two Goals – Game held in Everett)
  • Tri-City 4 Everett 0 (Tomas Suchanek 32 Saves – Rhett Melnyk Two Goals)
  • Edmonton 5 Red Deer 3 (Jacob Boucher – Two Goals)
  • Winnipeg 6 Regina 5 (Conor Geekie Shootout Winner – Two Goals and One Assist – Cole Dubinsky – One Goal and Three Assists)

Sunday, Sept. 12

  • Seattle 4 Tri-City 3 (Mekai Sanders – Two Assists – Game held in Everett)
  • Portland 6 Everett 2 (Robbie Fromm-Delorme – One Goal and One Assist)

WHL Pre-Season Schedule

Tuesday, Sept. 14

  • Brandon vs. Moose Jaw – 7 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 17

  • Portland vs. Spokane – 4 p.m. (Game held in Kennewick)
  • Medicine Hat vs. Lethbridge – 7 p.m.
  • Calgary vs. Red Deer – 7 p.m.
  • Regina vs. Prince Albert – 7 p.m.
  • Edmonton vs. Saskatoon – 7 p.m.
  • Moose Jaw vs. Swift Current – 7 p.m.
  • Prince George vs. Kamloops – 8 p.m.
  • Everett vs. Tri-City – 8 p.m.
  • Victoria vs. Kelowna – 8 p.m.