The WHL trade deadline has come and gone and the Prince Albert Raiders are looking to make a push down the stretch.
Raider general manager Curtis Hunt spoke to season tickets holders during the team’s annual ‘Breakfast with The Brass’ hosted by the team at the Ches Leach Lounge on Thursday morning.
There was no shortage of major trades throughout the league with several teams in the Eastern Conference making additions including Saskatoon acquiring Alexander Suzdalev and Fraser Minten, Moose Jaw acquiring Matthew Savoie and Swift Current picking up Conor Geekie.
Hunt says he enjoyed watching the major moves from afar, but says the Raiders will look to see improvement from players on their active roster down the stretch.
“There’s a fan in me somewhere and it’s fun to watch the transactions from afar. It’s interesting to see how different teams manage their group or what they value based on how we value things. As a GM, (we’re) wanting to get better every year. I like where we’re at. I think we’ve had an opportunity here and in this short time we’ve had a couple players away to see some young players in some good situations. I think they’ve risen to the challenge. I think we’ll put a lot of pressure on our older players to continue to build their game, to continue to build their leadership and continue to drive the bus in terms of getting us into that postseason.”
The Raiders made only one trade on deadline day, sending 19-year-old centreman Hayden Pakkala to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in exchange for a 2027 third round pick. Pakkala was originally acquired by the Raiders on Sept. 27, 2021 from the Winnipeg ICE in exchange for a ninth round pick.
Pakkala played 166 games as a Raider, posting 23 goals and 36 assists during his time in Hockeytown North.
Hunt says the Raiders were able to move Pakkala due to the ability of other players on the roster to play the center position.
“I think when you look at our group, (Harrison) Lodewyk has played some center, We think (Turner) McMillen can jump in and play a bit of center. I think Cole Peardon has been fantastic since he moved to the middle. I think his game is really starting to come. Luke Moroz is a natural center as well, (I’d) love to see Luke move to the middle and get more comfortable there. Once Ryder (Ritchie) gets healthy, there might be an opportunity to try him in the middle as well. We’re looking for that internal competition. We want those climbers and those kids that want to come out and compete and earn it.”
The Raiders’ other major move was the re-assignment of 20-year-old netminder Chase Coward, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Red Deer Rebels.
Coward appeared In 16 games with the Raiders posting a 6-8-0-1 record, a 3.52 Goals Against Average and an .882 save percentage.
Due to Max Hildebrand’s breakout campaign, Coward was not seeing regular playing time between the pipes for the Raiders.
Hunt says Coward took the news about the move in stride.
“As anyone can imagine, you rip a band-aid off quickly. I’m not one to beat around the bush with it. It’s just a matter of fact. He’s a 20-year-old man. He was very mature about it, and I think he knew it himself. I don’t think any one of us wants to be in a position where we’re given something we haven’t earned. It was hard because he’s such a quality person. That’s always the hard part and it’s something we pride ourselves on here in Prince Albert is having quality people. He took some time. We believe he’s going to start his education process at the University of Saskatchewan, which is fantastic, and we’re excited for him.”
Thirty-nine games into the regular season, the Raiders sit in the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with a 18-18-0-3 record, three points up on the Calgary Hitmen.
The Raiders have been a better team away from the Art Hauser Centre, posting a 10-9-0-1 record on the road while being below the .500 clip with an 8-9-0-2 record on home ice.
Hunt says the Raiders are hopeful they will punch their postseason ticket and make some noise in the playoffs.
“The first thing is we control our own destiny. We play the majority of our games at home. We’re sitting here (at) .500. We hold the final playoff spot, and we want to be climbers. The expectation, or the things I’d like to see, is especially our 19 and 20-year-old players is managing risk in the game a little better. They’ve done a terrific job leading. But those guys are the guys that are going to be our go -to guys, whether it’s through their play or their support.”
“We need to take care of business at home. That’s just a fact. We’ve got a terrific fan base. We’ve got a great building. It’s loud. It’s energizing. It’s exciting. For those fans who haven’t been here for a while, it’s a great game day experience beyond the game itself. Our players need to take advantage of that and get ourselves into the dance. Because once you get there, anything can happen.”
The Raiders begin the post trade deadline portion of their schedule on Friday night when they welcome Jayden Kraus and the Victoria Royals to the Art Hauser Centre. Puck drops at 7 p.m.