‘Playoffs are the goal’: Truitt optimistic for training camp, upcoming season

Herald File Photo. The Prince Albert Raider bench during a home game last season

With the start of Raider training camp less than 24 hours away, there is plenty of optimism for the upcoming season in Hockeytown North.

Raider head coach Jeff Truitt was in attendance for the team’s golf tournament on Thursday afternoon. In an interview, he says he is excited to get back to work and many players are eager to get started.

“The maturity and the progression of our team coming back and guys getting all together, they’re real excited about being with each other again and continuing to do what we did last year and building ourselves into a contending team. Playoffs are the goal. There’s no doubt about that.”

Playoffs were not in the cards a season ago for the Prince Albert Raiders as the team finished with a 28-37-3-0 record, finishing 10 points behind the Medicine Hat Tigers for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Truitt says the Raiders took their lumps a season ago but are hoping to book their tickets to the WHL playoffs this season.

“I know it’s early, but we went through last year for a reason, and that was to prepare our guys for a good season this year. A lot of familiarity and a lot of continuity with the players, lots of guys returning. We believe that chemistry and that passion and drive is there.”

Last season, Prince Albert acquired a number of players via trade during the season that became regulars in the lineup.  The list includes Owen Boucher (from Winnipeg in exchange for Vladislav Shilo), Aidan Oiring (from Winnipeg in exchange for Carson Latimer), Easton Kovacs and Brayden Dube (acquired from Seattle in Nolan Allan trade) and Carter Anderson (from Red Deer in exchange for Tayem Gislason).

Truitt says he is excited about having those players go through a full training camp with the team.

“That’s huge that they get the full meal deal right off the hop (and) that we know they are with us right from the start. When they come in, they don’t have to catch up. We get going systematically with everybody outside of our first-year players. The maturity and just the progression of everything, it leads to this excitement.”

This season, 2007-born players will have the opportunity to be full-time players in the WHL as 16-year-olds. Several players will look to exit training camp as regulars in the Raider lineup including 2022 first round pick Luke Moroz (15th overall), defenseman Ryan Gower (32nd overall) and forward Oli Chenier (60th overall).

Truitt says he is expecting healthy competition for available roster spots throughout the entirety of training camp.

“We’ve got a lot of skill. We got a lot of speed. We’ve got a good group of obviously veteran players. But, these younger kids coming in are really going to push and that’s what this is all about. It starts tomorrow where you we’re going to see what they’ve got and that’s what we’re excited about.”

One of major offseason transactions for the Raiders was acquiring the services of 2003-born goaltender Chase Coward from the Red Deer Rebels in exchange for a 2024 5th round draft selection. Coward missed a majority of the 2022-23 season after undergoing multiple hip surgeries due to a congenital defect that was found during a physical examination.

Coward only appeared in four regular season games last season, posting a 2.98 Goals Against Average and a .902 save percentage. During the 2021-2022 campaign, Coward appeared in 35 games posting a 22-10-2 record, a 2.51 Goals Against Average and a .906 save percentage for Red Deer.

Truitt says Coward will be a pleasant veteran presence in the Raider dressing room and provide a solid tandem with returning netminder Max Hildebrand.

“(There’s a) calming effect as a 20-year-old goaltender coming in here and this doesn’t diminish Max Hildebrand’s progression either. With Chase coming in, he went to Minnesota’s camp in the spring and he’s going back in the fall here for a bit. There’s a quality goaltender in there that’s going to help our younger group.”

Raider training camp opens on Friday and is closed to the public as players will undergo fitness testing and orientational videos. The first public day of training camp is Saturday, Sept. 2, with warmups beginning at 8 a.m.