Scoreboard anxiety watching for everyone involved with Raiders

Herald File Photo. The Prince Albert Raiders celebrate a goal during a home game earlier this season at the Art Hauser Centre. The Raiders have three games remaining in the regular season.

Stanks On Sports

We’ve hit that point in the WHL where people are constantly checking their mobile devices for scores.

In days of not so long ago, people would be checking the statistics pages of newspapers, listening to late night radio or tuning into late night local television sports segments to see scores and get standing updates. When you hit the final week of the WHL regular season, it becomes scoreboard anxiety watching time.

As far as the Prince Albert Raiders go, there is likely some scoreboard anxiety watching going on from players, coaches, management and staffers. It will be at different levels depending on who you talk to. For the fans, you likely can expect there will be lots of anxiety scoreboard watching going on.

Going into their final three regular season games, the Raiders (30-30-2-3) sit eighth and hold the final playoff position in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. They need to earn four points in the standings over their final three games to lock up a berth in the WHL Playoffs.

The Raiders sit three points ahead of the ninth place Calgary Hitmen (27-30-7-1). Anytime the Hitmen lose opportunities to get standings points due to regulation or extra time losses, it puts the Raiders that much closer to securing a post-season berth.

At the moment, the Raiders quickest path to securing a spot in the playoffs could potentially happen on Wednesday. The Raiders need to beat the visiting Regina Pats (22-37-4-2) when the two squads meet that night at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.

Also that same night, the Raiders would be looking for an assist from their archrivals the Saskatoon Blades. The Blades host the Hitmen that night, and if the Hitmen lose in regulation and the Raiders win, Prince Albert is officially part of the 2024 post-season dance.

The Blades top the WHL standings with a 47-13-2-3 mark and need to earn four standings points over their final three games to lock up first overall in the league. That should ensure the Blades give a top effort when it comes to facing the Hitmen.

Still, there are some Raiders fans who are likely a little nervous thinking the team should be at least one win away or have a post-season berth locked up already. That nervousness likely came from scoreboard anxiety watching. On March 9, the Raiders drubbed the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers 8-3 to improve to 30-27-2-3.

At that point, it seemed like a matter of time before the Raiders clinch a post-season berth, and they had a very real chance of finishing as high as sixth in the Eastern Conference. A three game losing streak ensued, and all of sudden, there was some worry a late season tailspin could knock the Raiders out of the post-season.

Falling 5-2 to the Pats in Regina last Friday despite holding a 34-23 edge in shots on goal might have been the result that created some fear. While every WHL team has won 20-or-more games this season creating an environment where results are not guaranteed, there has to have been a few Raiders supporters that penciled in that contest as being a win.

Mathematically, the Raiders could move up to sixth in the WHL standings. They would need to win their final three games and have help in the form of stumbles from the Lethbridge Hurricanes (32-28-6) and the Brandon Wheat Kings (31-28-6-1), who sit five and four points respectively ahead of the Prince Albert side.

Speaking of anxiety scoreboard watching, the Raiders fell 3-2 to the Wheat Kings in Brandon this past Saturday. Had the Raiders found a way to win that game in extra time, they would be one point behind Brandon in the standings.

Also last Sunday, the Hitmen beat the visiting Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime, which likely added to the anxiety scoreboard watching for Raiders faithful. That result didn’t help the Raiders as Calgary inched closer in the standings and Lethbridge still pulled away a little bit in the standings.

If the Raiders are able to get a post-season berth secured on Wednesday night, that would perk Raiders fans up for a likely first round playoff meeting with the Blades. That is always the post-season matchup folks in “Hockey Town North” want.

However, if the Raiders and Hitmen should finish the regular season with the same amount of standings points in the race for eight in the Eastern Conference, the two squads would have to meet in a standings tiebreaking game for eighth place. Just mentioning that tidbit might create the worse case scenario for anxiety scoreboard watching.

Winterhawks due for long playoff run, other notes

Could we see the Portland Winterhawks back in a Western Conference Championship Series or even a WHL final in the 2024 playoffs?

As crazy as it sounds, it has been a few years since the Winterhawks made a deep run into the post-season. The last time the Winterhawks made the Western Conference Championship series was in 2015, when they fell in six games to the eventual WHL champion Kelowna Rockets. The last time the Winterhawks were in the WHL final was 2014 when they fell in seven games to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings.

Since the 2015 post-season, the Winterhawks have usually been one of the WHL’s better teams winning at least 40-or-more games in all but two seasons which includes the shortened 2020-21 bubble campaign. The past two years, the Winterhawks have fallen in the second round, and one wonders if they are due to have a long post-season run again.

With a 5-4 overtime setback to the Thunderbirds at the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle this past Sunday, the Winterhawks were able to lock up first place in the U.S. Division with the single point from the extra time loss as their record moved to 46-15-3-1. The Winterhawks could potentially finish first overall in the Western Conference if they win their final three regular season games.

The Winterhawks have gotten outstanding goaltending from Czech import Jan Spunar. The 19-year-old has posted a 24-6-1-1 record, a 2.00 goals against average, a .919 save percentage and two shutouts.

Centre Gabe Klassen, who is a Prince Albert product, and right-winger James Stefan are going out in a blaze of glory as 20-year-olds. Klassen sits sixth in the WHL scoring race with 105 points coming off 35 goals and 70 assists to go with a plus-50 rating in the plus-minus department. Stefan is ninth in the WHL scoring race with 99 points coming off 48 goals and 51 assists to go with a plus-47 rating.

Nate Danielson, who is a 19-year-old centre, was acquired in a blockbuster trade before the WHL’s trade deadline on January 10, and he has 63 points coming off 24 goals and 39 assists to go with a plus-24 rating. Josh Davies, who is a 19-year-old left-winger, has 61 points coming off 36 goals and 25 assists to go with a plus-17 rating.

Luca Cagnoni leads the WHL in defencemen scoring with 87 points coming off 16 goals and 71 assists to go with a plus-44 rating. The Winterhawks have given up the third fewest goals in the WHL at 193.

Veteran head coach and general manager Mike Johnston is one 11 people to have surpassed 500 regular season coaching victories in the WHL. He will provide a steady hand to the Winterhawks as they make their way through the post-season.

Their traditional goal song of “T.N.T.” by AC/DC might once again be heard well into May.

  • Prince George Cougars right-winger Zac Funk leads the WHL in scoring with 120 points coming off 67 goals and 53 assists. He has a two-point lead over Moose Jaw Warriors centre Jagger Firkus, who has 118 points coming off 56 goals and 62 assists.
  • The WHL has eight players who have tallied 100-or-more points this season after having just two in phenom centre Connor Bedard and Chase Wheatcroft of the Cougars last season.
  • It looks Cougars-17-year-old right-winger Terik Parascak is going to take the rookie scoring race. He has 103 points coming off 43 goals and 60 assists. He has a good lead on Medicine Hat Tigers 16-year-old left-winger in Gavin McKenna, who has 92 points coming off 31 goals and 61 assists.
  • Could Swift Current Broncos interim head coach Taras McEwen be the WHL’s coach of the year? McEwen assumed the head coach role on Nov. 14, 2023 after former head coach Devan Praught was suspended for violating WHL Standards of Conduct for an on ice incident at practice. The Broncos started the campaign 9-9-1 with Praught as head coach. They have gone 29-12-3-2 with the 33-year-old McEwen behind the bench as interim head coach and lead the WHL’s Central Division with a 38-21-4-2 mark.

Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at