‘The finish line’

The Prince Albert Raiders are ending their season with a pair of games against the Saskatoon Blades this weekend. They will be last WHL games for overage Raiders Tim Vanstone, Kolten Olynek and Cavin Leth. (File photo)

Raiders wrap up 2016-17 season against the Saskatoon Blades

The Prince Albert Raiders are putting their season to rest this weekend, playing their penultimate match against the Blades in Saskatoon on Friday night before heading back to the Art Hauser Centre for the season finale on Saturday.

The games also mark the final WHL appearances from P.A.’s three overage players, captain Tim Vanstone and left wingers Kolten Olynek and Cavin Leth. Vanstone spent his entire five-year junior career with the Raiders, while Olynek was in P.A. for parts of the last two seasons and Leth joined the team this year.

Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said it’s disappointing to finish the season out of the playoffs and that the Vanstone, Olynek and Leth will be missed. He said it will be an emotional end to the year.

“They’re very good players and very good people and this’ll be the last time that this team as is will ever be assembled, so it’s a sad time but it’s a time to try to keep pushing because we’re trying to get that 10th place (finish) for the organization,” he said.

“Saskatoon’s still in the playoffs, we’re playing a rival, both buildings will have a lot of people at them so the guys will be excited.”

Vanstone first suited up for the Raiders in 2011 and heads into the weekend with 36 goals and 58 assists through 297 career games for P.A. He said his time with the Raiders has come “full circle.”

“I think the biggest thing for me is that you’re trying to enjoy it as much as you can but you know the finish line is there,” he said.

“The ups and down, the bad nights or the good nights, the long bus trips, everything that makes junior hockey junior hockey, right? Seeing your name up on the Raider captain wall and you see you’ve been in five (team) pictures and all the things that you’ve seen in this beautiful rink. Yeah, it’s been amazing. Wouldn’t change it for the world.”

The Blades are a team fighting for their playoff lives. With two games to go they sit three points behind the Calgary Hitmen for the final wildcard position. In order to surpass the Hitmen, the Blades will need to sweep the Raiders this weekend and hope that Calgary lose their final two games against the last-place Kootenay Ice.

Vanstone said it’s suitable to be ending his career against P.A.’s chief rivals.

“It always adds to the history, right? You’re always going to be part of the history, especially when you know that the Blades and Raiders always go head-to-head,” he said.

“We’re still playing for 10th place and they’re trying to make the playoffs and if we can play spoiler, that would be great. It’s going to be a fun weekend.”


Tale of the Tape:

On March 17 and 18 the Prince Albert Raiders play a pair of matches against the Saskatoon Blades in Saskatoon and P.A. Those games are the last of the 2016-17 campaign for the Raiders.

Record: Prince Albert — 20-43-5-2; Saskatoon — 27-34-7-2

Last 10: Prince Albert — 4-4-2-0; Saskatoon — 4-5-1-0

Top scorers: Prince Albert — Simon Stransky (45 points); Saskatoon — Braylon Shmyr (64 points)

Goals for/against: Prince Albert — 190/277; Saskatoon — 184/240

Last meeting: Kolten Olynek had a two-point night and scored the winning goal as the Raiders defeanted the Blades 4-2 at the Art Hauser Centre on Feb. 25, 2017.