Things can change in a hurry, and over the course of the last two games, the Prince Albert Raiders have fallen to the bottom of the East Division for the first time all season.
The Saskatoon Blades have overtaken the Raiders after winning six of their last seven games, while Prince Albert has lost four of the last five. Having said that, the Raiders have games in hand on both Saskatoon and Regina, sitting four points back of each team.
This weekend, another big home-and-home series looms as the Raiders take on the Pats.
My thoughts this week:
Victoria, Kootenay, Regina, and Portland got things moving and shaking as the holiday roster freeze lifted on Wednesday with a trio of deals. The trade deadline is coming up on Jan 10, and teams will start to show their intentions soon.
As for the East Division, it’s clear that Moose Jaw and Swift Current are all in. Both teams have made moves to make this year’s team better, and why wouldn’t you with the success they’ve had?
Regina has no choice but to do everything they can to load up ahead of the 2018 Memorial Cup, and now have an open 20-year-old spot after Wyatt Sloboshan didn’t return to the team after the holiday break. I expect something big out of Regina in the coming weeks.
I would have bet at the start of the year that the Brandon Wheat Kings would be listening to offers for 19-year-old standouts Kale Clague, Tanner Kaspick, and Ty Lewis with an eye towards building on an already impressive base of younger talent. However, the Wheat Kings are now 14 points up on Regina and Saskatoon, and within striking distance of Swift Current and Moose Jaw. You must think they’ll see how far this team can go, barring a king’s ransom that can’t be turned down.
That leaves Saskatoon and Prince Albert with some decisions to make.
Both teams would love to get back into the playoffs this season, and the way things are shaping up, it looks like at least one of them will.
Speaking with Raiders GM Curtis Hunt about his approach to the deadline and the second half, he identified the lack of 19-year-olds as a potential area to address. As it sits, the only ’98-born Raiders are Curtis Meger, Vojtech Budik, and Sean Montgomery. Hunt emphasized that “your 19 and 20-year-olds are what make this league hum, and that’s what’s gonna carry you.”
Looking ahead, Hunt said “there are playoff positions at stake. I believe we can get there, and if we can do something to supplement our group to help us get there we’ll obviously do that, depending on the cost.”
With upgrading the team where possible a priority, Hunt also cautioned that it must make sense for both today and in the coming seasons.
“It’s all risk versus reward. We could go out and get two or three guys if we want to give up assets that we’ve generated through previous deals, but we’ve been through some of the pain. Last year was a tough year for the kids with all the transactions and moves, and we want to reap those benefits at some point. We want to be very mindful of what we’re doing and what the teams around us are doing.”
Hopefully Thursday night’s crowd at the Art Hauser Centre was an indication of things to come in the second half.
With over 2,300 fans in the building, it was the second biggest crowd of the year next to the home opener as the Raiders hosted their rival.
It would mean a lot to the team both on and off the ice if the crowds would stay well above 2,000 for the remaining 20 home games.
It seemed like only a matter of time until it happened, but it was great to see Carson Miller get the monkey off his back with his first goal of the year on Thursday night.
The 21st overall pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, Miller with six goals and eight assists for 14 points in the last 20 games of his rookie season before undergoing season ending shoulder surgery.
He said after the game on Thursday that it’s been a struggle to find his game again this season, but I think he’s played some of his best hockey over the last few weeks. The Raiders need secondary scoring in a big way this year, and he looks like a good candidate to do his part.
On Twitter: @Trevor_Redden
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