Visiting Art Hauser Centre always a great time

Fans cheer on the Prince Albert Raiders at the Art Hauser Centre during the 2022 WHL playoffs. -- Photo by Darren Steinke.

The Art Hauser Centre is always a great place to be even when the Prince Albert Raiders are struggling in the standings.

Returning to action from the WHL Christmas break on Tuesday, the Raiders sport an 11-19-2 record to sit 11th overall in the 12-team Eastern Conference and seven points behind the Medicine Hat Tigers for eighth place and the conference’s final playoff berth. The Raiders entered the Christmas break after downing the visiting Spokane Chiefs 5-3 at the Art Hauser Centre to end a six-game skid.

Still, the Art Hauser Centre is one of the great old storied buildings remaining in the WHL. There is no bad seat in the 2,580-seat facility, and it always feels like you are top of the action.

Visiting teams have attested to the fact they can feel the energy of the fans at the Hauser going back to when the Raiders played their first game at the historic rink on December 12, 1971. In that contest, the Raiders, who played their first 12 seasons in the junior A ranks, thumped the Regina Pat Blues 9-2.

There is always a community feel in the rink. A number of longtime season ticket holders have often had the same seats for 10-years or more. It seems no matter where you go in the building you will ultimately meet up with someone you know.

The Ches Leach Lounge has forever been a hub of social activity. The Raiders have held a postgame show at the Ches Leach Lounge for as long as anyone can remember, and Prince Albert is one of the few remaining centres on the WHL circuit where fans can see coaches and players appear live for postgame talks.

On a handful of nights during the season, the Raiders are able to bring in a live musical act. During this season’s home and regular season opener back on Sept, 23, the Raiders welcomed home a local product in country music singer Katelyn Lehner, who performed a set with her band. It was a full-circle moment for Lehner, who sang the national anthem at various times at Raiders games growing up in Prince Albert.

The Hauser is also known to be one of the top three stops for concession food on the WHL circuit. Over the last two decades, it is common for visiting media to bring a few extra bucks to the Hauser to purchase a pre-game meal from the concession.

On the hockey front, visits to the Hauser will bring back a flood of memories from seasons past. The Raiders won the Centennial Cup four times as junior A champions and their first WHL title in 1985 along with Memorial Cup in reaching the CHL’s mountaintop.

Of course, the Hauser’s signature moment came with Dante Hannoun’s overtime winner in Game 7 of the 2019 WHL Championship Series to give the Raiders their second league title. Looking out on to the ice surface, you can still see the specters of a whole host of past Raiders greats and fan favourites in action.

While the Raiders haven’t piled up the wins as they hoped going into the WHL’s Christmas break, they’ve been competitive in most of the game’s they’ve been in. Even games they’ve dropped by a lopsided score they were usually in for the first couple of periods before the wheels fell off.

In the six game skid that came to an end with the 5-3 win over the Chiefs, the Raiders lost four games by one goal and one contest by two tallies. The anomaly at the moment was when Saskatoon Blades visited the Hauser on Dec. 10 and thumped the Raiders 9-0 in as dominant a fashion as possible.

On Friday, the Raiders return to the Hauser for their first home contest since returning from the WHL Christmas break, when they host the Tanner Howe and the Regina Pats at 7 p.m. The Raiders will be wearing special Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themed jerseys as part of a fundraiser to purchase maternal and pediatric equipment for the Victoria Hospital Foundation and the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.

The fundraiser is part of a league-wide promotion where each of the WHL’s 17 Canadian teams will host a similarly themed game to support local area children’s hospitals. This promotion should prove popular in Prince Albert and across the WHL as the Turtles are a generational thing beginning in 1984 that both parents and children of today can enjoy.

No matter the time, the Art Hauser Centre is a great place to be and any moments spent inside its walls are times to be cherished.

Canada may benefit from losing world juniors opener, other notes

Canada won’t be the indestructible juggernaut at world juniors.

Czechia saw to that.

On Monday, Canada had a 1-0 edge at the midway point of the first period in their opening contest of the preliminary round of the world junior tournament against Czechia. Czechia skated out of the opening frame holding a 2-1 lead and never trailed again skating to a 5-2 victory at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, N.S.

The setback might be a good thing for Canada, who entered the tournament as big favourites to repeat as champions. Czechia was viewed as one of the teams that is on the cusp of a potential breakthrough at world juniors, which are being co-hosted in Halifax and Moncton, N.B.

With the win on Monday, Czechia made a statement that it means business, and Canada’s aura of invincibility has faded away. Knowing they can be beaten, you can expect the Canadian side will refocus and battle back hard for the rest of the event to finish with a golden ending.

The first noticeable change will likely come in goal. Benjamin Gaudreau, who plays for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, started for Canada on Monday stopping 12-of-17 shots fired his way. He was pulled after Czechia’s fifth goal at the 11:46 mark of the second.

Thomas Milic, who plays for the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, stopped all 10 shots in relief. You can almost predict Milic will start Canada’s next game on Wednesday against Germany.

While you could say Gaudreau was hung out to dry on Monday, the reality in short tournaments like world juniors is teams have to ride the hot hand. Right now, Canada has to look to Milic, who backstopped the Thunderbirds to an appearance last season’s WHL final that was claimed by the Edmonton Oil Kings in six games.

Czechia netminder Tomas Suchanek, who plays for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, was impressive making 36 saves on Monday to power his country to victory against Canada.

With all that noted, Monday’s setback could ultimately be a bump in the road for Canada on the way to winning the gold medal final on January 5, 2023.

  • In the last CHL Top 10 rankings that were released on December 20, the Seattle Thunderbirds were rated first, the Winnipeg Ice were second, the Saskatoon Blades came in at fourth and the Portland Winterhawks sat in fifth. The Kamloops Blazers, who host this season’s Memorial Cup, were an honourable mention.
  • At the moment, the two biggest early tilts coming out of the WHL Christmas break are set for late this week, when the Blades and Ice go at it at the Wayne Fleming Arena in Winnipeg, on Friday and Saturday night. Entering play on Tuesday, the Ice sat first overall in the WHL at 26-4, while the Blades, who sport a 24-5 mark, are in a three-way tie for third overall. Both teams do not have any players absent due to participation at world juniors.
  • Entering play on Tuesday, Raiders 20-year-old alternate captain Landon Kosior sits tied for sixth in WHL defenceman scoring with Moose Jaw Warriors captain Denton Mateychuk at 31 points. Kosior has 11 goals and 20 assists in 30 appearances for the Raiders, while Mateychuk has six goals and 25 assists in 28 games with the Warriors.