Raiders-Blades rivalry provides special opportunity for Hildebrand family

Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald Prince Albert Raiders goaltender Max Hildebrand in goal at a home game earlier this season.

When the Prince Albert Raiders and Saskatoon Blades square off for a home-and-home series this weekend, the games will have extra meaning for the Hildebrand family.

Raider goaltender Max Hildebrand, a product of Martensville, grew up around the Saskatoon Blades organization where his dad, Steve serves as the team’s assistant general manager.

Max was taken by Prince Albert with the 286th overall selection in the 13th round of the 2019 WHL Prospects draft as the second last player selected.

Steve says he was preparing his son for the possibility of going undrafted before he heard his name called and was super excited when Max got selected by Prince Albert.

“I was proud of him. It was kind of funny because he was the second last pick of the draft, number 286. I was actually texting him saying ‘hey, you didn’t get drafted today but that’s ok you will have opportunities to go camps.’ I was kind of preparing him for that, as I was texting him his name got called and guys around our table were happy for him and our family.”

It took a bit of getting used to for the family to adjust to having the rivalry within their own family. Steve says he discovered a Raider sticker on his vehicle not long after Max was drafted.

“After he was drafted, the Raiders sent out a little package of stickers, we were driving to a baseball tournament in Sherwood Park, and he had taken and put a Raider sticker on my vehicle. We have fun with it. We’re both competitive people, we both want to do well and again, when we play, I cheer for him, I wish nothing but the best for him. But at the end of the day, I bleed blue, and I always will bleed blue.”

Max says it was a little weird donning the Raider colors for the first time after spending so much time around the Blades as a kid but got used to it quickly to play pranks on his dad when he could.

“Growing up as a kid, I was always a Blades fan. Hanging around their dressing room with the players a lot. I thought it would be a little funny to joke around with him. It was weird for a while being drafted by the Raiders being a Blades kid growing up. A couple jokes [between us] for sure.”

Growing up, Max Hildebrand had athletic talents off the ice as well. Max was a talented baseball player serving as a left-handed pitcher and a left-handed hitting first basemen for his teams.

Steve says it was interesting to watch Max play early in the season because he catches with the opposite hand while on the ice in the crease compared to on the diamond.

“He was a hell of a baseball player as well. He was heavily involved in that, hockey and baseball were his things. He’s ambidextrous, he throws left-handed in baseball and catches with his other hand in hockey. It was really interesting when he started seasons, because it would take him a couple practices to get used to catching with the other hand.”

Max says he felt playing baseball helped him in his athletic development in his journey to becoming a goaltender in the WHL.

“I think it’s important for all kids to play two sports, just hand-eye coordination, and things like that. Even though I catch with my other hand in baseball compared to hockey. I think it’s big to just get outside the rink and onto the field or something like that.”

The Highway 11 rivalry has not been kind to the Raiders so far this season, with the Blades winning all four matchups. Max has appeared in the Raider crease for both matchups at the SaskTel Centre.

Steve says he is always rooting for his son but wants the Blades to prevail at the end of the day.

“It’s tough. As a family, we’re cheering for Max, I’m cheering for Max. I want him to do well. The last game we were here in our box at SaskTel Centre and all my family was in green except me. They should support him. The outcomes have been very good so far. He’s been a star in both games here and the Blades have won both games. That’s the way it should be right?”

Max says he doesn’t try to think of the family portion of the rivalry as much when he is in the Raider crease.

“For me, I try to think of it as another game. Obviously, I’ll have a lot of family at the game. I don’t try to think of it as me versus him too much. I’m on the ice and he is in the stands.”

Steve says the Hildebrand family has enjoyed being a part of the rivalry, despite him being on the opposite side of it from his son. He adds that the family might not realize the magnitude of what is happening until after Max’s time in the WHL concludes.

“I don’t think we will appreciate what we are going through right now with this until later on. I thought it was super cool he started our home opener this year. We’ll never appreciate that until later. There’s a lot of nerves involved from being a parent, being a goalie parent is hard enough. Being a goalie parent watching your son play against you for your archrivals. It’s so unique. We won’t appreciate that part of it until time goes on a little bit.”

The Raiders and Blades square off in Saskatoon on Friday night and on Saturday night at the Art Hauser Centre. Puck drops at 7pm both nights.