Raiders make B.C. trip most memorable part of 2022-23 so far

Photo by Darren Steinke.

It would be understandable if the Prince Albert Raiders and their fans got a little greedy thinking the team could have won all the games on their B.C. Division road trip.
Still, the Raiders posted a 3-2 record on a trip that saw them play those five games over eight days with extensive travel through the mountains. For the reloading Raiders youthful roster, it was a big accomplishment to post a 3-2 mark.
It also isn’t a stretch to say that the Raiders played well enough they could have won every contest on that trip. The Raiders won the first three games of the swing against the Prince George Cougars, Victoria Royals and Vancouver Giants outscoring those foes 14-5. The Prince Albert side dropped the last two games falling 6-4 to the Memorial Cup hosting Blazers in Kamloops on Friday and a 4-0 decision to the Rockets in Kelowna on Saturday.
In the loss to the Blazers, the Raiders held a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes and were up 4-3 at one point in the second period. The Blazers scored late in the second and netted the only two goals in the third to pull out the win.
Against the Rockets one night later, the Raiders held 51-23 edge in shots on goal but were unable to solve Kelowna’s 20-year-old netminder Talyn Boyko. The Rockets scored twice in the first and twice in the third to pull out the win.
Prince Albert’s trip was so successful that 20-year-old defenceman Landon Kosior was named the WHL’s player of the week for the week ending on Sunday. Over the Raiders last four games of the B.C. trip which counted towards the player of the week honour, Kosior posted three goals, five assists and a plus-three rating in the plus-minus department. In 41 appearances this season, Kosior has recorded 15 goals, 27 assists and a plus-two rating.
While Kosior claimed the WHL player of the week accolade on Monday, Boyko was tabbed as the WHL’s goaltender of the week. Boyko’s 51-save shutout against the Raiders was his lone action of the week. At the moment, Boyko’s performance marks the most saves that were needed to secure a shutout in a WHL game this season.
The B.C. road trip provided some needed confidence for a few of the Raiders players around the net. So far this season, the Raiders have scored the second fewest goals in the WHL at 134.
During the five-game swing, Raiders captain Evan Herman scored five goals. For the longest time, it appeared Herman wouldn’t come close to surpassing 20 goals like he did last season with a team high 28 tallies. Now, it is conceivable that Herman could hit the 20-goal plateau this season as he sits with 12 markers on the campaign.
Sloan Stanick, who is a 19-year-old left-winger, stayed steady on the trip collecting four assists over the five games. He continues to lead the Raiders in scoring collecting 44 points on 17 goals and 27 assists.
Raiders overage centre Keaton Sorensen had a goal and three assists over the last four games of the trip. Centre Hayden Pakkala had a goal and three assists during the five games of the jaunt.
Eric Johnston, who is an 18-year-old defenceman, posted one goal, two assists and a plus-six rating over the five-game swing.
The Raiders still sit 11th in the WHL’s 12 team Eastern Conference with a 19-27-3 record and are nine points behind the 21-21-7-1 Medicine Hat Tigers for eight place and the final playoff berth in the conference. Still, the Raiders are playing tough enough that they aren’t a free spot on the bingo card.
Opposing clubs know they have to be ready to battle the pesky Raiders. The Raiders gave a scare to the Blazers (31-10-4-2) on the B.C. trip.
The Raiders have played the top teams in the WHL tough. The one club they haven’t been able to solve is the WHL leading Winnipeg Ice (37-7-1). The Ice, who are rated second in the CHL Top 10 Rankings released on Tuesday, have won their three encounters with the Raiders this season by a combined 20-7 score.
Now, the Raiders turn their attention to the next opponent they can frustrate, which turns out to be the Swift Current Broncos (23-21-1-2). The Broncos sit one point back of the Tigers eighth in the Eastern Conference with three games in hand.
The Raiders will look to continue to spoil opportunities teams like the Broncos have. In the process, the Raiders might be able to inch their way up the standings too.
Thunderbirds team to beat with Guenther in fold, other notes
The Arizona Coyotes might have made the Seattle Thunderbirds the team to beat in the WHL.
On Sunday, the Coyotes assigned 19-year-old right-winger Dylan Guenther to the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds acquired Guenther’s WHL playing rights from the Edmonton Oil Kings before the WHL’s trade deadline on January 10.
In 33 NHL regular season games with the Coyotes, Guenther posted six goals, nine assists and a minus-seven rating in the plus-minus department. The Coyotes selected Guenther in the first round and ninth overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Arizona had also lent Guenther to Canada for this past world juniors. In the gold medal game played on January 5 in Halifax, N.S., Guenther had two goals including the overtime winner and an assist as Canada downed Czechia 3-2.
Playing in all of Canada’s seven games at that event, Guenther recorded seven goals and three assists for 10 points. He tallied six goals on the power play, which was record for most power play goals by a Canadian at one world juniors.
With Guenther on their roster, the Thunderbirds have 10 players that have either been drafted to the NHL or have NHL entry-level contracts on their roster. The other nine players include centre Jordan Gustafson (Vegas Golden Knights), centre Brad Lambert (Winnipeg Jets), left-winger Reid Schaefer (Edmonton Oilers), centre Jared Davidson (Montreal Canadiens), centre Colton Dach (Chicago Blackhawks), left-winger Lucas Ciona (Calgary Flames), defenceman Nolan Allan (Blackhawks), defenceman Luke Prokop (Nashville Predators) and defenceman Kevin Korchinski (Blackhawks).
The Thunderbirds acquired Allan earlier this season in a blockbuster deal with the Prince Albert Raiders this past November.
Entering play on Tuesday, the Thunderbirds topped the WHL’s Western Conference with a 36-9-1-1 record and were rated fourth in the latest CHL Top 10 Rankings. They have two outstanding netminders in Thomas Milic, who backstopped Canada to gold at this past world juniors, and Scott Ratzlaff.
The Thunderbirds are coming off advancing to last season’s WHL final, where they fell in six games to the Oil Kings, who had Guenther and Prokop on their roster at that time. Seattle has stellar undrafted players like overage left-winger Kyle Crnkovic and centre Gracyn Sawchyn, who turned 18-years-old on January 19.
Out of the WHL’s super teams, the Thunderbirds have to be considered the club to beat. They will be challenged.
Seattle still has to play the powerful Portland Winterhawks six more times. Entering play Tuesday, the Winterhawks sit second in the Western Conference and third overall in the WHL at 35-10-2-1 and are rated seventh in the CHL Top 10 Rankings.
Thunderbirds still have to take on the Memorial Cup hosting Kamloops Blazers three times. The Blazers lead the B.C. Division with a 31-10-4-2 mark and are rated ninth in the CHL Top 10 Rankings.
Still, the Thunderbirds have an impressive roster and experience. Those factors might ultimately make them too tough for anyone else to beat.
If you want tickets to see the final visits of Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats to either Prince Albert or Saskatoon, you better act fast. The online sales for the Pats visit to play the Raiders in Prince Albert on Friday, February 17 at 7 p.m. are down to standing room only for the Art Hauser Centre. For the Pats visit to Saskatoon to play the Blades on Sunday, March 19, there is a scattering of tickets in the lower bowl and about five rows of tickets remaining on average for each upper deck section at the SaskTel Centre. For the Pats visit to Saskatoon to play the Blades on Friday, March 24, there is a scattering of tickets in the lower bowl and about 30 per cent of the upper deck sections of SaskTel Centre are still available.
The WHL’s top save percentage belongs to Moose Jaw Warriors overage netminder Connor Ungar. Ungar has posted a .925 save percentage in 38 regular season games to go with a 26-7-1 record, a 2.58 goals against average and one shutout.
The 2022-23 campaign is the season of the 17-year-old in the WHL, and that sees Lukas Dragicevic of the Tri-City Americans leading the WHL in scoring by defenceman. The 17-year-old Dragicevic leads all blue-liners with 57 points coming off 13 goals and 44 assists to go with a plus-eight rating in 48 regular season games. He is rated 12th among North American Skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Rankings. Ben Zloty, who is a 20-year-old with the Ice, sits second in defenceman scoring with 53 points coming off eight goals and 45 assists to go with a plus-35 rating in 44 regular season games.
Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at