Stanks On Sports
Max Hildebrand is one of the top five goalies in the WHL right now.
As far as statistics go, he is hovering around 10 or just outside the top 10 in most goaltending categories in the WHL. For anyone that has been able to watch the quality of his recent starts with the Prince Albert Raiders, Hildebrand has grown into one of the WHL’s elite puck stoppers.
Hildebrand gives the Raiders a real chance to win every time he skates into the crease of the team’s net. That would also be true if he played for any other team in the WHL.
A couple of his most impressive outings came in a recent home-and-home series with the WHL leading Saskatoon Blades. In a 5-4 victory after a tiebreaking shootout at the Art Hauser Centre on January 26, Hildebrand made 41 saves over 65 minutes and turned away two-of-three shooters in the tiebreaking shootout.
The 19-year-old Martensville product kept the Raiders in striking distance when they entered the third period trailing 4-2. After the Raiders scored twice to tie the contest up 4-4 and force overtime, Hildebrand stopped all six shots he faced in overtime to ensure the contest got to a shootout. From there, the Raiders claimed a 2-1 victory in the tiebreaking session.
One night later in the 3-2 loss to the Blades at the SaskTel Centre, Hildebrand, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 188 pounds, kept the Raiders in that contest as the Blades held a 33-9 edge in shots on goal and a major advantage in time in the offensive zone. After Raiders star 20-year-old left-winger Sloan Stanick scored short-handed with 3:18 remaining in the third to make the score 3-2, the Prince Albert side had momentum through the rest of that frame, so that contest ended up being one that could potentially be stolen.
On January 31 taking on the no-quit and gritty Red Deer Rebels at the Art Hauser Centre, Hildebrand made 43 saves over 65 minutes and again turned away two-of-three shooters in the tiebreaking session to give the Raiders a 2-1 win in the shootout and a 4-3 victory overall in the game. Last Saturday against the speedy and skilled Medicine Hat Tigers, Hildebrand came up with 24 stops to deliver the Raiders to a 3-2 victory.
So far in the 2023-24 campaign, Hildebrand has appeared in 34 games with the Raiders posting a 16-13-3 record, a .909 save percentage and one shutout. Hildebrand battles in goal and rebounds quite quickly when the opposition gets a puck past him.
Hildebrand will work to make the athletic save when a shooter does attempt to get creative on a scoring chance. That ability to make the athletic save on top of his resolve to battle are intangibles that set Hildebrand apart from most of the other goalies in the WHL.
Plus, Hildebrand’s rise to being one of the WHL’s top goalies is a good story. He was picked in the 13th round and 286th overall in the then WHL Bantam Draft in 2019.
As the second last player selected in the draft, the Raiders were basically taking out a flyer on Hildebrand to see if there was any potential in that direction. Hildebrand took the opportunity on that front and made the most of it.
He could very well have had opportunities on another sporting front had he not been selected by the Raiders. Hildebrand was a high-level baseball player growing up serving as a left-handed pitcher and a left-handed hitting first baseman for his teams.
He trained regularly with the Going Yard Baseball Academy in Saskatoon for about four years. As a bonus, Hildebrand is one of the rare few that got to enjoy two sports growing up at a high level in an era where sport specialization seemingly from a young age dominates. There are times the baseball training helps Hildebrand make an athletic save in net in hockey.
On a side front, it is always fun to see the family dynamic in the rivalry between the Raiders and Blades as Hildebrand’s father, Steve Hildebrand, is the associate general manager of the Blades and has become a dedicated lifer with that team. In the off-season, it is easy to spot Max Hildebrand in Martensville sporting Raiders gear.
At the moment, the Raiders (22-24-1-3) sit ninth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference one point behind the Calgary Hitmen (21-19-6-1) for the final playoff berth in the conference. The Hitmen have three games in hand on the Raiders. Heading into action on Tuesday, the Lethbridge Hurricanes (24-20-3) sit seventh in the conference two points up on the Hitmen and three points up on the Raiders.
If the Raiders can get on a run, they might be able to overtake either the Hitmen or Hurricanes or they might be able to catch up to the Swift Current Broncos or Brandon Wheat Kings further up the standings.
With Hildebrand securing the situation in the Raiders net, it is not out of the question they could get on a heater and secure a post-season position.
Kosior rolling with Huskies, other notes
Landon Kosior is settling just fine in the U Sports ranks.
The former Raiders star offensive-defenceman has found a home with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Men’s Hockey Team. In his first 10 games with the Huskies, Kosior has recorded four goals, five assists and a plus-four rating in the plus-minus department. Two of Kosior’s tallies have been game winners.
The Regina product joined the Huskies after they came out of their Christmas break. Kosior spent the first half of the 2023-24 campaign with the Iowa Heartlanders of the ECHL. In 19 games with the Heartlanders, Kosior recorded two goals, 11 assists and a plus-one rating.
The Huskies sit fourth in the Canada West Conference with an 18-6-1-1 record. They close the regular season hosting the U of Manitoba Bisons (5-20-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. at Merlis Belsher Place in Saskatoon. The Huskies could still finish anywhere between second and fifth in the Canada West standings.
Before the start of the current campaign, Kosior spent four seasons in the WHL all with the Raiders. Last season, he finished second in team scoring with the Raiders recording 63 points on 17 goals and 46 assists to go with a plus-three rating in 60 regular season games.
- On Tuesday, the Blades were rated first in the CHL’s Top 10 Rankings for a second straight week. Also cracking those rankings from the WHL include the Portland Winterhawks at sixth, the Prince George Cougars at seventh, the Everett Silvertips at ninth and the Moose Jaw Warriors at 10th.
- Cougar star 20-year-old right-winger Zac Funk could potentially be the WHL’s first 50-goal scorer this season. Funk leads the WHL with 46 goals, which is a career high. Funk also has career highs in assists (35), points (81) and plus-minus (plus-34) this season appearing in all the Cougars 50 games.
- Portland Winterhawks 19-year-old rearguard Luca Cagnoni leads the WHL in scoring by defenceman. Cagnoni has 62 points coming off 11 goals and 51 assists to go with a plus-34 rating appearing in 47 games for the Winterhawks. He was selected in the fourth round and 123rd overall by the San Jose Sharks in last year’s NHL Entry Draft.
Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at stankssermon.blogspot.com.