Raiders board calling on fans to fill Art Hauser

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Prince Albert Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt speaks during the team's annual general meeting in August 2018.

As the Prince Albert Raiders look to try and win their first Western Hockey League playoff series since 2005, the team’s board of directors want to have as many fans as possible come along for the ride.

While the club reported a loss for the second straight season during their annual general meeting Tuesday night at the Ches Leach Lounge, vice president Brad Toporowski believes that an increase in attendance at the Art Hauser Centre will help to strengthen the Raiders’ financial footing.

“It doesn’t matter the form of entertainment that you are in, the goal is to get the fans out,” Toporowski said. “In the past few years, an exciting product wasn’t there at times, but I think we saw the interest pick up in the community with what the team did at the end of the regular season and by getting a taste of the playoffs.

“There’s a buzz in the community coming into this year, but now it’s up to our core fans to engage others and help build that support.”

After reporting a loss of $250,849 last season, the Raiders were able to increase their revenue over the 2017-18 campaign to the tune of $2,117,519, which was helped by bringing in $128,239 from three playoff home games against the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Although they were once again in the red with a loss of $168,430, Toporowski says that the outlook for the club is far better compared to what it was at this time last August.

“Last year was a trying year for sure, but with (general manager) Curtis Hunt and the staff that we have in place now, the pieces are in place for us to have a great season,” Toporowski said.

“We have a number of returning guys and the product on the ice should be entertaining. As a result, I think you’ll see that revenue shortfall wiped out by the amount of fans that are coming to the rink.”

In 36 home contests last season, the Raiders had 73,812 fans come to the Art Hauser Centre, which averaged out to 2,050 fans per game.

That was down from an average of 2,133 fans and 76,773 total supporters during the 2016-17 campaign.

However, the Raiders playoff attendance was on par with what they had in their first round matchup with the Warriors two years ago.

A total of 8,502 fans came for the three home contests against the Raiders’ East Division rivals this spring, which saw the Warriors win in seven games.

The average attendance of 2,834 was just 56 less than what the Swift Current Broncos average crowd was during their 13 home playoff games on their run to the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

It was also 119 less than what the Tri-City Americans had in seven contests during their journey to the Western Conference final in a rink that can seat up to 6,000 fans.

The increased atmosphere in the Art Hauser Centre during the playoffs was something that Hunt stressed about wanting to see more of during his speech Tuesday.

“As a former player for this team I know what it’s like to have that energy when this place is packed,” Hunt said. “It’s been awhile since we’ve had that on a regular basis, but I think we have the talent here to have a really strong season and get the fans fired up.”

Hunt also spoke of his excitement for what the Raiders will bring to the table this year with a mix of returning veterans such as Ian Scott, Cole Fonstad, Parker Kelly and Brayden Pachal, along with newcomers such as Aliaksei Protas and Kaiden Guhle.

One player that won’t be with the side when training camp gets underway this weekend is overage forward Noah Gregor, whose rights were acquired from the Victoria Royals last month.

“He’s going directly to the San Jose Sharks’ training camp and his goal is to try and start his pro career,” Hunt said. “If he comes back to join us, he’ll be a huge addition to our top line.”

Gregor, who has signed an entry-level contract with the Sharks, has averaged over a point per game during his four years in the WHL.

He had 65 points in 60 games last season with the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Royals.

The Raiders’ board of directors remains intact for the upcoming season as Colin Fraser, Cory Crawford and Brent MacDonald were all re-elected.