The par­al­lels of teams past and present

Top-ranked squad bears re­sem­blance to Prince Al­bert’s 1980s hey­day

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - DARREN ZARY [email protected]­media.com

Curtis Hunt was there as a player back in the mid-1980s when the Prince Al­bert Raiders es­tab­lished what was then their West­ern Hockey League fran­chise-record 15-game win­ning streak.

And he didn’t even know it. “The funny thing is that, as a player in the mo­ment, I’m sure we were ex­cited, but when you re­flect back, I didn’t even know we were the team that had it (the Raiders fran­chise record),” said Hunt, now the gen­eral man­ager of the cur­rent Raiders who had won 19 con­sec­u­tive games this sea­son be­fore hav­ing their new fran­chise record snapped Tues­day in Swift Cur­rent.

Hunt, whose Raiders are in Saska­toon Sun­day to play the Blades in a WHL con­test, sees many sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the Raiders of the mid-1980s and the Raiders of to­day.

The cur­rent edi­tion evokes me­mories of that past glory.

“Maybe the thing I see the most in com­mon is the fact that the build­ing is filled with ex­cited fans,” said Hunt, whose Raiders en­tered Fri­day’s ac­tion with a 26-1-0-1 record this sea­son with only one loss in reg­u­la­tion thus far as the topranked ma­jor junior team in North Amer­ica.

“I re­mem­ber the fans in Prince Al­bert as a player — the en­ergy, the ex­cite­ment, the sense of com­mu­nity, the pats on the shoul­ders, the recognition in the city. That’s the big­gest sim­i­lar­ity right now, that our kids are start­ing to feel a com­mu­nity that’s proud, a com­mu­nity that’s out in great num­bers to sup­port them and, from my per­spec­tive, I’m glad they have a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence that be­cause I cer­tainly did as a player.

“Our build­ing is as daunt­ing as it comes when we’re full, loud and proud.”

Long­time hockey coach Terry Simp­son, who guided Hunt and the Raiders to a Me­mo­rial Cup win in 1985, looks back fondly on those Raider glory days. He was re­cently re­minded of the 1985-86 win­ning streak.

“I had kind of for­got­ten about it,” said Simp­son, who now re­sides in Saska­toon af­ter a lengthy coach­ing ca­reer with the WHL’s Raiders and Red Deer Rebels and the NHL’s New York Is­lan­ders, Win­nipeg Jets, Philadel­phia Fly­ers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

“When we had our streak go­ing, there wasn’t such a big deal made about it at that time.”

Upon re­flec­tion, he is able to gain a bet­ter ap­pre­ci­a­tion of how good the Raiders were back then.

“I was go­ing back through my head about that team in ’85 and it’s kind of funny,” said Simp­son. “When we won the (Me­mo­rial) Cup and ev­ery­thing, I thought we had a pretty good team. I didn’t re­al­ize, and I went back in my head, that a lot of those play­ers played pro. I think we had four first-round (NHL) picks even­tu­ally from that team. We did have a good team and prob­a­bly more tal­ented than I gave them credit for. I al­ways thought we were a hard-work­ing, ba­sic team. When I look back on it, I guess we had more tal­ent than we thought.”

Up front, the Raiders had Dan Hodgson, Dave Pasin, Tony Gre­nier, Kenny Mor­ri­son, Dale McFee, Steve Go­taas, Collin Feser, Brad Ben­nett, Dean Braham, Pat Elynuik, Kim Is­sel and Rod Dall­man.

De­fen­sively, the Raiders had Dave Man­son, Dave Go­ertz, Curtis Hunt, Emanuel Viveiros and Ken Baumgartner.

“So we were pretty solid on de­fence,” said Simp­son. “And our goal­tender was Ward Komonosky and he sort of came out of nowhere, some­thing like (Ian) Scott with the present Raiders, and he had a great year for us. You have to have the goal­tend­ing no mat­ter what.”

Simp­son ad­mit­ted he’s no longer “close to the scene any­more,” but he is some­what sur­prised the 2018-19 Raiders have racked up as many wins as they have.

“They hadn’t done that well over the past few years, but they were im­proved last year and (in) their play­offs,” said Simp­son.

“To my knowl­edge, they’ve been fairly consistent. They’ve had the same coach, same gen­eral man­ager and there hasn’t been a lot of player move­ment there, so they’ve ac­cu­mu­lated a very good team.”

Simp­son said he knows that “it takes a good team to run a streak like that.” He points out the Raiders have been down in games and have been able to come back dur­ing their 19-game streak.

“I saw them play here against the Blades and I thought they were very good,” said Simp­son. “They’re a big team, they skate very well, move the puck well and play well. They play a very a good game. And their goal­tend­ing is good. They’re pretty solid.”

Most WHL prog­nos­ti­ca­tors felt Prince Al­bert would be among the WHL’s East Divi­sion lead­ers, but who knew the Raiders would be this good?

“Ob­vi­ously we’re real happy with where we sit,” said Hunt. “I think it’s a cul­mi­na­tion of hav­ing a plan and stick­ing with the plan and good lead­er­ship, good coach­ing and play­ers com­mit­ted to do­ing what they’re asked to do on a nightly ba­sis.”

Hunt said it’s an ev­ery day process that has led to some pos­i­tive re­sults.

“We knew we had a chance to com­pete for a top spot even in the con­fer­ence or a home play­off spot if we were aim­ing for some­thing at the begin­ning of the year,” he said. “The great­est thing about junior hockey is the dif­fer­ence in the growth and de­vel­op­ment of kids when they go home for the sum­mer and how hard they work and so we’ve had some real pleas­ant sur­prises with some of our per­son­nel with how they’ve played, grown and ma­tured and that’s vaulted us to a level we weren’t ex­pect­ing, but we’ve been striv­ing for.”

Goal­tend­ing has been key with Scott play­ing out­stand­ing in net. Up front, for­ward Brett Lea­son has been a pleas­ant sur­prise. Both are league lead­ers. Noah Gre­gor, Sean Mont­gomery, Parker Kelly, Sergei Sapego, Bray­den Pachal, Ali­ak­sei Pro­tas and Cole Fon­stad are among the other key con­trib­u­tors.

“If you look at our group, the core of our guys have been here for two years,” said Hunt. “We’ve been scratch­ing and claw­ing, but we’ve stuck to­gether and we’ve been able to sup­ple­ment and com­ple­ment our group with some play­ers that are good play­ers and good peo­ple. It’s all kind of come to­gether in a nice storm, I think.

“Con­sis­tency is so im­por­tant, I think. We ask for con­sis­tency. What we have had is con­sis­tency with our staff and I think that’s im­por­tant, too. To bring (as­sis­tant coach Jeff ) Tru­itt in, he’s some­one who Marc (Hab­scheid) is com­fort­able with and had worked with be­fore. It’s been a very seam­less tran­si­tion from Dave Man­son, who we thought would be a real huge loss. Give Tru­itt credit be­cause he’s filled those big shoes.”

BLADES, RAIDERS ON ‘SAME PATH’

Hunt sees some sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the Raiders and ri­val Saska­toon Blades, who are both ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an up­swing af­ter a num­ber of lean years.

“What I like about the Saska­toon se­ries — I know we play once here (Satur­day) and again af­ter Christ­mas — is that we’ve both been on a sim­i­lar path where we’ve been av­er­age,” said Hunt, whose team wraps up a home­and-home se­ries with the Bran­don Wheat Kings Satur­day night be­fore play­ing the Blades Sun­day. “It’s hard to gen­er­ate a lot of ex­cite­ment when you’re av­er­age. We do have our loyal fol­low­ers, both sides, but it’s ex­cit­ing. I saw them (the Blades) play on the road in B.C. I just hap­pened to be out there. They’re a team play­ing with lots of con­fi­dence and they’re get­ting scor­ing through­out their lineup and once we get through our (Bran­don) games and have a chance to fo­cus on Saska­toon, we’re al­ways ex­cited to come into that build­ing and play the Blades.

“It’s a great ri­valry and one of the best in the league, I be­lieve.”

Maybe the thing I see the most in com­mon is the fact that the build­ing (in Prince Al­bert) is filled with ex­cited fans.

LIAM RICHARDS FILES

Sean Mont­gomery and the Prince Al­bert Raiders (26-1-0-1) ar­rive in Saska­toon to play the Blades Sun­day while look­ing to start a new win­ning streak with their re­cent 19-game un­de­feated run com­ing to an end Tues­day against the Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos.

Dean Braham and the Terry Simp­son-led Prince Al­bert Raiders scrapped their way to a Me­mo­rial Cup ti­tle dur­ing the 1984-85 sea­son.

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