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Home Opinion Raiders’ 20-year-old class kept club on track – Helped team navigate pandemic rough waters

Raiders’ 20-year-old class kept club on track – Helped team navigate pandemic rough waters

Raiders’ 20-year-old class kept club on track – Helped team navigate pandemic rough waters
Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Landon Kosior -- photo by Darren Steinke.

Evan Herman, Landon Kosior and Keaton Sorensen had a special commitment that helped the Prince Albert Raiders navigate unforeseen rough waves that were beyond the team’s control.

Actually, the entire WHL should be thankful for the overage class of 2022-23. This group of players felt the effects that came with the various stops and starts when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic gripped the world in earnest in March of 2020. Thanks to the commitment of this season’s 20-year-old player class, the WHL got to experience its first what can be termed normal season since the 2018-19 campaign.

Last Saturday, the Raiders were officially eliminated from post-season contention with a 4-1 loss to the WHL leading Ice in Winnipeg. While there was disappointment among the Raiders faithful there would be no action in the WHL Playoffs in 2023, a youthful Raiders squad fought hard enough that the team would only experience three games where it would be playing out the string.

After Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Ice in Winnipeg, the Raiders have two games left on their regular season schedule. On Friday, they will host the Moose Jaw Warriors at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. On Saturday, the Raiders wrap up the 2022-23 season traveling to Regina to take on Connor Bedard and the Pats.

During Friday’s home date, the Raiders will be saluting their graduating 20-year-old players in Herman Kosior and Sorensen. The salute is well earned as they took part in a lot of grunt type work behind the scenes to help the Raiders get through uncertain times with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in the 2019-20 campaign, Herman, Kosior and Sorensen were skating through their rookie 17-year-old seasons. Herman and Kosior were with the Raiders, while Sorensen was with his hometown Red Deer Rebels.

The campaign was proceeding like normal until March 11, 2020. On that day, all WHL regular season contests played to conclusion as usual, but the NBA that same night suspended play over COVID-19 concerns, so there was a feeling more was to come on that front.

On March 12, the WHL along with seemingly all leagues in North America paused their seasons. WHL players were sent home on March 13 thinking there might be a two week break before the campaign resumed. Ultimately, the tail end of the regular season and all post-season action was cancelled.

The Raiders were defending WHL champions that season and sat first in the East Division with a 36-18-6-4 record. There was excitement Herman and Kosior could be part of a long playoff run on a team that still had significant returnees from the season before in Aliaksei Protas, Ozzy Wiesblatt, Spencer Moe, Kaiden Guhle, Zack Hayes, Jeremy Masella and Justin Nachbaur.

Sorensen’s Rebels had been eliminated from playoff contention with a 24-33-3-3 record and never got to play out their last five contests of the campaign. Across the WHL, none of the graduating 20-year-old players from that campaign received a proper farewell. It seemed like out of the blue their major junior careers were over all at the same time.

Prince Albert Raiders forward Keaton Sorensen — photo by Darren Steinke.

Herman, Kosior and Sorensen finished up high school with various lockdowns going on. There wasn’t any certainty when they were going to play again. Some players had conversations about moving on to the next part of their lives after hockey.

To keep the WHL brand going and to get players time on the ice, a bubble season was held to make up the 2020-21 campaign. Sorensen played 23 games with the Rebels against the four other Alberta based WHL teams from late February to early May 2021 in empty rinks in each centre.

Herman and Kosior played a 24 game regular season in a bubble environment in the Brandt Centre in Regina in March and April of 2021 against the WHL’s four other Saskatchewan clubs and two teams from Manitoba. The Raiders lived in dorms at the University of Regina and bused to the Brandt Centre to play in an empty arena outside of a small gathering of scouts and media members.

Following that campaign, the Raiders acquired Sorensen in a trade with the Rebels on August 17, 2021. Going into the 2021-22 campaign once again playing a full 68 game regular season schedule but with no cross conference play, Herman, Kosior and Sorensen were part of the group that was tabbed to bring the Raiders into the future after all the COVID-19 stoppages.

Without having played an actual complete WHL campaign to that point in their respective careers, Herman, Kosior and Sorensen were now 19-year-old veterans. The last time fans could see them live at that point in time they were still rookies.

There were bumps in the road in 2021-22. The entire WHL campaign took close to a two week break at the start of January 2022 due to numerous positive COVID-19 tests courtesy the Omicron variant.

Still, the regular season in 2021-22 was completed, and the Raiders found their way into the WHL Playoffs having posted a 28-35-4-1 mark to finish eighth in the Eastern Conference. They fell in five games in a first round series against the Winnipeg Ice, who topped the WHL’s overall standings with a 53-10-3-2 mark.

While the Raiders have been eliminated from post-season contention with a 27-36-3 record with two games to play, Herman, Kosior and Sorensen have all had strong seasons. Herman was named the Raiders captain on November 18, 2022 after Nolan Allan was dealt to the Seattle Thunderbirds in a blockbuster trade. Despite seeing tougher checking, Herman has 17 goals and a career high 20 assists for 37 points in 62 appearances this season.

Kosior cemented himself as one of the WHL’s elite offensive-defencemen this season. In 58 games, he has 17 goals and 43 assists for 60 points to go with a plus-three rating in the plus-minus department. His assist and point totals are career highs.

Sorensen has enjoyed the best season of his WHL career. In 63 games, he has career highs in goals (25), assists (28), points (53) and plus-minus (plus-five).

Thanks to their commitment, the Raiders were able to get through an unprecedented time of league wide stoppages and uncertainty. The team will get to enjoy future eras. Herman, Kosior and Sorensen deserve a salute for helping to provide a new base for the future to be built upon.

Winnipeg appears to have first overall on Ice

The Winnipeg Ice are seemingly a lock to capture the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy given to the club that tops the WHL’s overall regular season standings for a second straight year with the regular season going into its final weekend.

Heading into action on Friday, the Ice (55-10-1) lead the Seattle Thunderbirds (53-10-1-2) by two points for first overall in the WHL. Both teams have two games remaining, but the Thunderbirds will be hard pressed to overtake the Ice.

The first problem the Thunderbirds face is the first major standings tiebreaker doesn’t fall in their favour. If the Ice and Thunderbirds finish with the same amount of standings points, the Ice would win the standings tiebreaker due to having more wins.

The second problem Seattle faces is closing the regular season against a tough U.S. Division foe. The Thunderbirds conclude their regular season schedule with a home and home series against the Portland Winterhawks (39-19-5-3) who sit sixth in the overall WHL standings. The Thunderbirds and Winterhawks go at it on Friday in Portland and Saturday in Seattle.

The Ice conclude with a home-and-home series against the Brandon Wheat Kings (26-32-8), who have been eliminated from playoff contention. The Ice and Wheat Kings go at it on Friday in Brandon and Saturday in Winnipeg.

Of course, both the Ice and Thunderbirds would love to finish first overall, because they would have home ice advantage for every series they would be part of in the WHL Playoffs. Last season, the Ice topped the WHL’s overall standings with a 53-10-3-2 mark, but they were eliminated in the WHL’s Eastern Conference Championship Series by the eventual league champion Edmonton Oil Kings.