With the Prince Albert Raiders’ season coming to an end after a game five loss to the Winnipeg ICE, it also marked the end of Reece Vitelli and Remy Aquilon’s WHL careers.
The two overagers joined the Raiders via trades in the 2019-20 season, when Prince Albert was fresh off of their WHL championship. Vitelli says the trade that brought him from Everett to PA was the best thing that could have happened to him.
“Coming to PA, I didn’t know much,” Vitelli said. “I had never really been to northern Saskatchewan before. I knew they had just won, they had a great team, and they did a lot of great things. When I got the call, I didn’t really know what to expect.
“Honestly, it was the best decision that life could have handed to me.”
Before the Raiders championship run in 2019, Vitelli was a part of the Everett Silvertips team that reached the WHL final in 2018 against the Swift Current Broncos. However after moving to Prince Albert, his three seasons with the Raiders were full of life lessons.
“Hockey’s just a game, there’s a lot of life left,” he said. “Our coaches do a great job of giving us lessons and we leave as better men. In my experience in junior hockey, you’re a part of one big family. Everyone is together and pulling on the same rope. Whether it’s the front office, the coaches, the fans, the players, we all want the same thing. You meet different families and they become family to you, and that’s truly a great experience.”
Aquilon’s journey to Prince Albert was along a similar path. He joined the Raiders organization in a trade from the Victoria Royals early in the 2019-20 campaign, and quickly became one of the team’s most trusted defencemen.
Playing with Kaiden Guhle, Zack Hayes, Nolan Allan, Landon Kosior, and Jeremy Masella that season, Aquilon’s addition made the Raiders defense core one of the most formidable in the league.
After the trade that sent Guhle to the Edmonton Oil Kings this season, Aquilon saw his role with the club increase even more, as his ice time skyrocketed. He was also given the honour of serving as an alternate captain in 2021-22, the first time he has done so in the WHL.
“I learned quite a bit, especially from this coaching staff,” Aquilon explained. “There is a huge winning identity, but also winning in life. It was a big jump (after Kaiden left), he’s obviously a really good player and it’s hard to fill his shoes. I think not only myself but every one of our defensemen did a great job of stepping up to the plate after that.”
Aquilon was able to learn a lot in his time with the Raiders, and had some of the best guidance around. With both Guhle and Allan being picked in the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, he says even as an older guy on the team, it was nice to pick their brain about the game.
“It’s been really cool,” he said. “They’ve both been to NHL camps which is obviously a huge accomplishment. Learning from them and asking them questions, even if I am a little bit older, I try to soak in as much as they told me.”
As an undrafted player, Aquilon had to work his way through the ranks to even crack a WHL roster. After each season, the defenceman would set new career highs in points, finishing the 2021-22 season with 27. He says while his WHL career has come to an end, his options are still available for hockey in the future.
“I’m definitely going to keep every door open just in case. I’m excited for what the future has. I’m going to wait and see what happens, I want to use my WHL scholarship and their education package. I think it’s a very good thing that the WHL has put in place. I’d love to go pro as well. It’s a dream to pursue and play hockey, so we’ll see what happens.”