Column: stunning season from Prince Albert Raiders

Corey Atkinson

Twenty-six wins, one loss.

If a crown prosecutor had that kind of a record, that prosecutor would be a judge by now. If a singer has 26 of 27 singles make it to number 1 on the charts, they’d be bigger than Elvis Presley.  

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But that, as of Friday, the only entity known with that record was the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League. They’re 26-1 this season going into Tuesday’s scheduled game against Swift Current.

And if a junior hockey team from Eastern Canada had this kind of record, the mind would be blown about the kind of coverage they’d get.

One just wonders what would happen if the Peterborough Petes or the Barrie Colts or some other team much closer to the greater Toronto area had started the year in the fashion of the Raiders. Would they be the feature story each day on CTV, CBC, Rogers Sportsnet, RDS, ESPN Classic, the History Network, the Food Network, etc? Would television experts like Craig Button and Bob McKenzie be in the province every night telling Canada about how great this team is? You bet.

There’s a very strong Estevan connection to what should be known as Canada’s team. Their captain, Brayden Pachal, is from Estevan and is on pace to have the best season of his career offensively, with five goals and 15 assists after 26 games and he’s an astounding plus-33. His career highs are seven goals and 19 assists last season.

Pachal cut his teeth with his hometown TS&M bantam AA Bruins, scoring 14 goals and 13 assists in 2013-14. The second leading scorer on that team was a year younger than him – centre/winger Cole Fonstad, who had 21 goals and 52 assists . Fonstad is also a member of the Raiders this year, and has seven goals and 11 assists on the season, which are a bit off his pace for offence but when your team is 26-1, that requires a bit of personal sacrifice.

This city has two players with significant roles on a historically good Western Hockey League team.  You’d think they’d be getting all the attention in the world.

Now there are a couple of reasons that are helping them get that record. Last season, if you’ll recall, the Regina Pats hosted the Memorial Cup, and they went all in for a couple of years to get players for that specific season – including Cale Fleury, as it turned out.

Another team having a great season last year was the Moose Jaw Warriors. They sent players to Brandon for their shot at it when they dealt for defenceman Kale Clague, and while they’re having a very good season in Moose Jaw, it’s not the same as last year.

The team that ended up winning the division was the Swift Current Broncos, and no team paid as heavy a price as they did. They made huge deals with Calgary and Lethbridge over the course of the season and dealt most of their solid prospects in order to try to win the league. They succeeded in that, and I’m sure no one is complaining about their trip to the Memorial Cup in their home province.

But this year, it’s fair to say the Pats and Broncos are subpar hockey teams. Swift Current has four wins this season and Regina has eight. Swift Current has 46 goals this season, as of Friday. This weekend last year, Broncos sniper Tyler Steenbergen had scored 33. It’s a far different team than the one that was a bounce or two away from making some serious noise at the Memorial Cup.

Both the Broncos and Pats are already a department store floor or two away from the playoffs and with the Pats sending a pair of players for two players and a mess of draft picks, at least one of them is recognizing they’re unlikely to get there this year.

With those three teams not fielding the strongest teams in the league at the moment – and their respective prospect cupboards relatively bare in case they were close, the division the Raiders are in couldn’t be better set up for a great team to look even better.

That would be a good reason to win the division. But 24-1? This is some otherworldly voodoo going on.

Congratulations to the Raiders, and in particular the Estevan connection on the team, for going above and beyond the requirements for great teams outside of Saskatchewan. You deserve more accolades and attention than you’re getting. 

© Copyright 2018 Estevan Mercury

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