Raiders ready for opening night

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Prince Albert Raiders blueliner Remy Aquilon, seen here controlling the puck during a pre-season game against the Saskatoon Blades in Warman last weekend, will start his overage season in the Western Hockey League on Friday night.

A childhood dream is about to become reality for Prince Albert Raiders forward Ethan Ironside.

After signing a contract with his hometown team on Sept. 15, the 18-year-old is now gearing up for his first season in the Western Hockey League, which will get underway this weekend as the Raiders take on the Regina Pats in a home-and-home series to kick off the 2021-22 campaign.

“The excitement level is definitely going to be up there for my first regular season game,” Ironside said.

“I’m sure I’ll be just jittering and shaking, but I’ll be ready to giver.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Raiders overage blueliner Remy Aquilon, who is set to start his fourth and final season in the WHL.

“I think the biggest thing that we’ve been telling our young guys is to make sure that they stay level-headed out there,” Aquilon said. “They got a taste of things and adapted really well in the pre-season, but it’s totally different once you get to the regular season, especially compared to the other leagues they’ve played in.

“We’re just reminding them that if they keep a level-head and do their role, they will do great.”

Of the players that were on the Raiders roster as of Thursday morning, seven have yet to play in a WHL regular season contest.

That group includes forwards Hayden Pakkala, Zachary Wilson, Bryce Warkentine, Vladislav Shilo, Harrison Lodewyk and Ironside, along with netminder Tikhon Chaika.   

“The veterans have given us a lot of advice of what to look forward to,” Ironside said. “They’ve made everyone that’s new to the team feel comfortable and they’ve done an amazing job of making us feel at home.”

“Our group has really come a long way since the start of training camp and our younger guys have done a great job,” Aquilon said. “As an older guy, it’s nice to know that we can lean on them and be able to believe and trust them already.”

Meanwhile, forwards Niall Crocker and Dallyn Peekeekoot have yet to play a regular season game in front of fans after making their debuts in the East Division hub last year in Regina, with blueliners Adam McNutt, Tayem Gislason, Tre Fouquette and Terrell Goldsmith also falling into that category.

“The hub was exhibition games, but it’s different obviously compared to this year as we have fans back in the building,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said.

“You get that extra energy from the crowd and that environment is new to a lot of guys on our team, especially those that were in the bubble. They are getting more experience with that every day though and they are getting more used to it.”

The opening weekend of the season will also be a frantic one for the Raiders.

After hosting the Pats in a 7 p.m. contest at the Art Hauser Centre, the two teams will then play again on Saturday in a 1 p.m. matchup at the Brandt Centre, which will also be broadcast nationally on CBC.

“I will be a tough couple of games and good testing point for us as we jump right back into it,” Aquilon said.

“We played Regina twice in the pre-season and there are things we can take from those games, but it’s totally different when you get to the regular season. There’s going to be a lot more fans in the stands and more attention on us, especially with Saturday’s game being on television.”

Pre-Game Notes

The Raiders made a pair of roster moves on Wednesday as they reassigned goaltender Max Hildebrand to SJHL’s Flin Flon Bombers and forward Alex Mack to the South Side Athletic Club Under-18 program.

Hildebrand started three of the team’s four pre-season contests, while Mack played in all four games after signing a contract with the club on Sept. 15.

As of Thursday morning, forwards Reece Vitelli (Arizona Coyotes) and Ozzy Wiesblatt (San Jose Sharks) were still at National Hockey League training camps, along with blueliners Nolan Allan (Chicago Blackhawks) and Kaiden Guhle (Montreal Canadiens)

Forward Tyson Laventure is currently out indefinitely for the Raiders after sustaining an upper body injury against the Pats on Sept. 18.

Meanwhile, Regina is without the services of goaltender Keagan Maddocks, who is week-to-week with an upper body injury, and blueliner Marcus Taylor, who is day-to-day with a lower-body-ailment

Defencemen Ryker Evans and Stanislav Svozil were also away from the Pats as of Thursday morning as they take part in training camps with the Seattle Kraken and the Columbus Blue Jackets respectively.

The Pats and Raiders split their season last year with two wins each, which marked the first time that happened since the 2014-15 campaign, when each side won four contests.

Evans led Regina in scoring during the matchup with six points in four games, while Laventure paced Prince Albert offensively with seven points in four games.

Opening Night Info

Friday’s game at the Art Hauser Centre will mark the first time that mandatory masking as well as vaccination verification or a verified negative test will be needed to enter the building.

Thorough guidance and facilitation with health experts from the Ministry of Health, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and eHealth Saskatchewan, alongside the City of Prince Albert and the staff of the Art Hauser Centre, the Raiders have finalized the details of the vaccination verification program earlier this week.

  • Fans age 12 and over must be able to verify they have received two doses of Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines (or a mixture of two) or a single dose of Johnson and Johnson to be permitted to enter the Art Hauser Centre.
  • The COVID-19 Vaccination Record available through eHealth Saskatchewan’s individual MySaskHealthRecord account is the preferred vaccination record for entry and will provide the smoothest verification process on game day. The Raiders recommend having the QR code displayed, a digital copy or screen capture on a smartphone ready for game day. 
  • Fans 18 and older will be required to present photo ID matching the name on the vaccination record. Fans aged 12-17 will be required to show their vaccine record, but not photo ID.
  • Fans under the age of 12 are exempt from the policy but must be accompanied by an adult to enter the arena.
  • Other documents such as the immunization wallet card received at the time of vaccination, COVID immunization records from public health, Armed Forces records or out of province/out of country proof of vaccination will also be accepted.
  • Stick it to Covid vaccine stickers will not be accepted as proof of vaccination.  

Prairie Industrial Health Services will be set up outside the Art Hauser Centre and fans can be tested on the spot and if a negative test is established, will be permitted into the Art Hauser Centre.  Costs for the test will be $25 per test. 

The Raiders have also announced that they will not be retaining or storing any medical information or proof of vaccination from its ticket holders, and that fans must be able to present the information stated above at each Raiders home game.

The team also announced that Canadian country music artist Aaron Pritchett will be at the season opener, as he will be performing the national anthem and playing in the Ches Leach Lounge following the game.

Around The WHL

The Saskatoon Blades and the Kelowna Rockets hooked up for a big trade on Tuesday afternoon as Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Colton Dach was dealt for fellow 18-year-old forward Trevor Wong.

Dach, who was a second round selection by the Blackhawks in July, had 49 points in 82 games for a Blades side that picked him sixth overall in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft.

“Colton is going to bring some things to our team that are going to be important to us,” Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton said in a prepared statement. “I think he’s going to mature a lot as a player here now that he has an NHL training camp under his belt. We’re going to expect him to come in here and have a leadership role with our group in the near future.

“When you make a deal of this size, battleship for battleship, we’re certainly giving up a young player that we’ve thought an awful lot of. Trevor was our first-round pick a few years ago and a real special person, but I think with where our team is, I thought that size was going to be an issue when we play big physical teams. I wanted to get something done earlier rather than later.”

Wong, who was the 18th overall pick by the Rockets in 2018, put up 31 points in 78 games during his time in Kelowna and recently attended the Florida Panthers training camp.

“I owed it to our talented, committed group of core players to make the right deal to improve our team,” Blades president and general manager Colin Priestner said in a prepared statement. “Trevor was one of the most dynamic bantam players I have scouted in my nine years with the Blades. He’s someone that you normally would never be able to acquire in a trade because he’s so talented and so well-regarded around the league, but this trade appears to be a good fit for both sides.

“This was not an easy trade to make. Colton was a first round pick of ours and we were looking forward to seeing him continue to develop, however the day after the NHL draft, Colton’s representative requested a trade. We remained patient in our discussions on Colton’s future, and were not going to agree on a trade until we received an equal or better player of the same age coming back to our club. Trevor is certainly that level of player.”

The Kamloops Blazers and Vancouver Giants were involved in a trade of their own on Wednesday evening as the Blazers acquired 19-year-old Slovakian blueliner Marko Stacha for a fifth round pick in the 2023 WHL Draft.

“Marko is a solid two-way defenseman with experience in our league,” Blazers general manager and head coach Shaun Clouston said in a prepared statement.

“We were able to watch him lots last season and really liked his game. With an open import spot, we thought this was a great opportunity to improve our team.”

Stacha, who had six points in 21 games last year, was the odd man out on the import front with the Giants, as Vegas Golden Knights draft pick Jesper Vikman and Boston Bruins prospect Fabian Lysell set to join the team.

Meanwhile, Blazers forward Logan Stanokven and Giants forward Zack Ostapchuk signed entry-level contracts with the Dallas Stars and the Ottawa Senators this week.

Stankoven, who was projected by many to be a first round pick at the 2021 NHL Draft before falling to the Stars at pick 47, has 59 points in 72 regular season games for the Blazers and recorded eight points in seven contests for Canada’s gold medal winning side at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18’s.

Ostapchuk, who was the 39th overall selection by the Senators in July, has 24 points in 72 games for the Giants and made his NHL pre-season debut on Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Friday’s Schedule

  • Winnipeg vs. Brandon – 6 p.m.
  • Calgary vs. Lethbridge – 7 p.m.
  • Saskatoon vs. Moose Jaw – 7 p.m.
  • Regina vs. Prince Albert – 7 p.m.
  • Medicine Hat vs. Swift Current – 7 p.m.
  • Red Deer vs. Edmonton – 7 p.m.
  • Portland vs. Tri-City – 8 p.m.