In the spring of 1993, the hockey community in Prince Albert dealt with something they had only seen once before – no playoffs.
With trips to the conference final or further in four of their first 10 Western Hockey League years, Prince Albert Raiders fans had grown accustomed to long seasons. After losing five of their top six scorers from the previous year though, management had little choice but to rebuild.
Mid-way through the 1992-93 campaign, the Raiders were at the bottom of their division and made the decision to trade team captain and fan favourite Dean McAmmond to the contending Swift Current Broncos in a blockbuster deal. As part of the trade, Prince Albert received Swift Current’s first round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft – giving the organization two first round selections for the first time in club history.
Unlike the bantam drafts of today’s generation, where players can follow along on computers or phones, the top prospects of 1993 had little way of knowing if they had been drafted or not.
A talented forward from Kelowna, BC, Sean Robertson remembers rushing home from school to check the answering machine.
“My buddy called and said he was drafted by Red Deer in the third round but he didn’t know where or if I went,” explained Robertson. “I finally got a call later that night to say I was selected by Prince Albert with the last pick of the first round.”
Taken 16th overall, Robertson was the second of two selections by the Raiders – the other being future NHL defenceman Chris Phillips with the 5th pick – and instantly became a piece of the puzzle hoping to restore glory in northern Saskatchewan.
Similar to any young hockey player drafted by a major junior team, being taken was an exciting time for Robertson. It would have been easier for Prince Albert to pick a Saskatchewan-born player, with the option of bringing someone in to play on their midget team, but the Raiders had seen Robertson play countless times and decided to take a chance on the west coast product.
“There were a handful of teams that told my dad they would select me if I was still available in the second round. Kamloops was one of those teams and I grew up watching the Blazers.
“I knew Prince Albert had a lot of interest though. Their scout had watched me the year before and had talked to my dad and me about my plans. They had probably seen me play 30 times in my draft year.”
When the 1994-95 season came around in Prince Albert, the Raiders were beginning to see the fruits of the deal that shipped McAmmond out of town. Brad Church and Shane Willis were key forwards for the team along with stalwart rearguard Shane Hnidy. Robertson got his first taste of the WHL, playing in 50 games, while fellow draft pick Rob Hegberg suited up five times.
“Two years after they made that deal with Swift Current, we had five guys in the line-up and three of them went on to play in the NHL,” said Robertson. “Swift Current had no one left.”
In both 1995 and 1996, Prince Albert would make it to the Eastern Conference Final.
Now, 22 years later, the Raiders find themselves in a similar position. After trading away stars Josh Morrissey and Leon Draisaitl mid-season, Prince Albert will pick 5th and 20th in the first round of the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. On top of that, the team secured three roster players in Austin Glover, Jesse Lees, and Dalton Yorke, as well as four additional draft picks (2nd in ’16, 3rd in ’17, 4th in ’16, and a conditional fourth round pick) to be used over the next two years.
In recent first rounds, Prince Albert has chosen names like Mark McNeil, Mike Winther, Josh Morrissey, Reid Gardiner, Brendan Guhle – all players who have gone on to make an impact in a Raiders jersey.
The Raiders will now get the chance to add at least two more players that could have similar impact on the team when the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft gets underway on Thursday, May 7, in Calgary.