Since taking over the Prince Albert Raiders’ general manager role ahead of the 2015-16 season, Curtis Hunt found himself in a difficult situation.
He had to sell a story that Raider fans have already heard for the past 15 years or so, 'wait until next season.'
“I think the toughest thing was I put it on the table and said ‘I’m asking for trust. You’ve heard the story of next year, next year. Well, this is the year we were talking about,” Hunt said. “We knew we would be competitive and we have a terrific group.”
This is that year Raider fans have been waiting for, and the numbers back it up.
Despite having 21 games left in the season, the Raiders have already posted one of their best years in recent memory. The 35 wins they’ve put up already is more than they’ve accrued in 16 of their previous 20 seasons. That number will jump up to 17 with their next victory.
Despite facing a few pieces of adversity since returning from the holiday break, the Raiders have been named as the CHL’s top team for the past 12 weeks.
“The truth is, we’re the rabbit. As you can see whenever we slow down, we get bit. It’s happened a few times here,” Hunt said. “I like our group. Our guys have grown up together, they’ve been through the war together and gone through a little bit of adversity. They’ve had success, they’ve had some near misses.
“That’s the core of who we are. I didn’t want to play with it too much. I think Marc [Habscheid] and the coaching staff have done a tremendous job mentoring those kids number one, and two, the kids have done a tremendous job taking ownership and making it their room.”
So all Raider fans were eager to see what Hunt and the Raiders would do on trade deadline day. Hunt made three trades on the final day. He acquired assets at all three main positions by adding forward Bryce Bader from the Calgary Hitmen, defenceman Loeden Schaufler from the Seattle Thunderbirds and goaltender Boston Bilous from the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Although it wasn’t a deadline deal, the Raiders made their biggest trade since the season started a week ago, acquiring overager Dante Hannoun from the Victoria Royals.
Big bad Bader
The Raiders began the deadline by announcing the addition of forward Bryce Bader from the Calgary Hitmen. The Raiders sent unsigned prospect Quinn Olson, who’s committed to Minnesota-Duluth, the other way. Both teams have exchanged conditional sixth round picks in the deal, as well.
Bader is a 17-year-old rookie, with four goals in 10 games played this season with the Hitmen. He’s listed at 6’1, 205-pounds and isn’t afraid to use his big frame.
“I like to bring a heavy game. I’m not scared of anyone out there,” Bader said. “I try to give the boys a jump when we’re down. I like getting in the corners.”
Loeden up on defence
Many players that have been traded to the Raiders in the past have had to fly or drive across the country. Loeden Schoefler had to move his hockey bag about 20 feet from the visitor’s to the Raiders’ locker room.
Schoefler was a scratch for the Seattle Thunderbirds when they beat the Raiders 4-1 on Wednesday at the Art Hauser Centre. He found out after the game had ended that he’d be sticking around after the Raiders acquired him for an eighth round pick in 2019.
“I came into Prince Albert, and I didn’t think I’d be staying,” Schoefler said. “So I didn’t play last night. I was just kind of wondering what was going on. After the game, I got told that I got traded to P.A. so it was pretty exciting.
“I’m going to bring my game, make a good first pass, skate well and play it simple out there.”
Shippin’ in Boston
The only Raider that hasn’t arrived yet is goaltender Boston Bilous, coming over from the Edmonton Oil Kings for a conditional sixth round pick in 2022.
Bilous has a ‘C’ ranking in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. He only played in 10 games with the Oil Kings this year, with a 3-4-0-1 record, 3.59 goals against average, 0.859 save percentage and one shutout.
“He’s another player caught behind some depth in Edmonton’s organization,” Hunt said. “Another guy we see a lot of potential in, a young player that can take advantage of the tutelage of [Raiders starting goalie] Ian Scott. There are a lot of similarities there.”
With the additions, the Raiders reassigned defenceman Lane Kirk and goaltender Donovan Buskey to the Junior A level.
After having not played a game all season due to a lower body injury, Kirk was sent to the MJHL to play with his hometown Swan Valley Stampeders. Hunt said that Kirk suffered from nerve damage in his foot. He was never able to find himself back into the Raiders’ lineup, despite repeated therapy.
Hunt said that Kirk was still affiliated with the Raiders and they would look at him again in the summer.
Buskey was sent to the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL. He was 9-1 in 11 games with the Raiders, posting an .870 save percentage and 3.15 goals against average.
Winterhawks up next
The Raiders and their new players will take on the Portland Winterhawks, who have made some deals as well. Of note, they acquired Swift Current Broncos goaltender Joel Hofer and Saskatoon Blades forward Josh Paterson. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. Check out voice of the Raiders Trevor Redden and his call of the game on 900 CKBI, with pre-game coverage starting at 6:30 p.m.
On Twitter: @jeff_paNOW
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