For only the second time in franchise history, the Prince Albert Raiders are WHL Regular Season Champions.
On the strength of 106 points, the Raiders laid claim to the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy on Tuesday evening, following a 6-0 victory over the Swift Current Broncos.
This marks the third straight season that the WHL’s Regular Season Champion hails from the East Division, as the Raiders continue the streak by following in the footsteps of the Moose Jaw Warriors (2017-18) and Regina Pats (2016-17).
The 2018-19 campaign will go into the books as one of the best in Raiders franchise history.
Only three seasons after moving to the Western Hockey League from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, the 1984-85 Raiders went 58-11-3 (119 points) to claim the franchise’s first WHL Regular Season Championship. That remains the best season in franchise history, and with a newly shortened 68-game WHL slate, the 2018-19 edition of the Raiders mathematically won’t quite reach that mark, with a possible 12 points still up for grabs.
Though they won’t touch that franchise-best record, the year is still worthy of great celebration for the Raiders who have reached the 100-point plateau for the first time since 1995-96 and eclipsed it for the first time since 1991-92, when they collected 102 points.
En route to 51 victories (as of March 5) this season, Head Coach Marc Habscheid surpassed the 500-win plateau, becoming the eighth coach in WHL history to do so.
The last time the Raiders earned an East Division title, you have to wind the clock all the way back to the 1998-99 WHL campaign and a squad that included the likes of future NHL stars Scott Hartnell and Nick Schultz. Ultimately, that team fell to the eventual WHL Champion Calgary Hitmen in a five-game Eastern Conference Championship.
Bring yourself back to present day, and a host of NHL prospects have backed the Raiders not only to an East Division banner, but a Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as well. Guided by the likes of Noah Gregor (San Jose Sharks), Brett Leason (2019 NHL Draft prospect), Cole Fonstad (Montreal Canadiens), Parker Kelly (Ottawa Senators) and goaltender Ian Scott (Toronto Maple Leafs), the next task for the Raiders will be to do what the 1998-99 team couldn’t – advance to the WHL Championship.
It truly has been a year to remember for the Raiders and fans in Prince Albert, alike. There has been no shortage of electrifying moments, be that in the confines of the Art Hauser Centre or elsewhere.
Following a quiet start to his WHL career, 19-year-old Calgary product Brett Leason exploded onto the scene in 2018-19, registering points in each of the first 30 games of his season – 64 points in total (28G-36A) – not only scorching up the WHL scoring charts, but forcing his way onto Canada’s National Junior Team for the World Junior Championship in December and January. That of course followed on the heels of an appearance at the 2018 CIBC Canada Russia Series in November.
Though Leason may have cooled ever so slightly, he has still collected 84 points (33G-51A) in 51 games and sits eighth in scoring in the WHL as of March 5. His play earned him a place at the 2019 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Red Deer this past January, an uncommon place for a 19-year-old player. NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings for the 2019 NHL Draft have the 6-foot-4 forward ranked 17th among North American skaters – another uncommon mark for a veteran of Leason’s ilk.
On November 16, Scott made headlines across the WHL and outside its borders when he achieved the ever rare feat, recording a goaltender goal with 43.5 seconds to go in a home game against the Tri-City Americans. Mere days previous, the Maple Leafs had narrowly missed on a similar attempt, but against the Americans he made good.
Aside from his goal-scoring antics, Scott has enjoyed an outstanding campaign all around. He joined Leason and teammate Parker Kelly at the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series in November before also moving along to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship with Team Canada.
Over 43 appearances, the product of Calgary has logged a 35-7-1-2 record with a 1.90 goals-against average (GAA), .931 save percentage (SV%) and six shutouts. As of March 5, Scott ranks among the WHL leaders in GAA (second), SV% (second), wins (second) and shutouts (second).
Perhaps an unsung hero helping the Raiders along in 2018-19 has been 20-year-old veteran Sean Montgomery. In his fifth campaign, the product of Calgary surpassed the 300-game plateau for his career. Not to mention, he has enjoyed a career year offensively with 55 points (27G-28A) in 63 appearances.
The acquisition of speedster Dante Hannoun bolstered an already powerful offense. Joining the Raiders just prior to the WHL Trade Deadline, the 20-year-old product of Delta, B.C. has accrued 66 points (29G-37A) in 54 outings.
The Raiders are far and away the highest-scoring team in the WHL, with 288 goals-for (4.50 goals-for per game) through 64 games played. The Lethbridge Hurricanes sit in a distant second with 245 goals-for (3.89 goals-for per game) through 63 games played.
Complementing the powerful offensive onslaught is a stingy defense. The Raiders have allowed the third fewest goals-against to this point in the WHL season, with only 152 goals (2.38 goals-against per game) finding their way into the Prince Albert net thus far. That’s good enough for third in the WHL.
While Scott has no doubt contributed handily to that mark, he has helped along by the savvy play of captain Brayden Pachal, veteran Max Martin and import Sergei Sapego. Rookie blueliner Kaiden Guhle, only 16 years of age, has proven beyond reliable in his first season.
With home-ice advantage on lock down for the duration of the 2019 WHL Playoffs, the Raiders now await their opponent for the first round. A great deal remains to be determined, with only the Raiders, Blades and Oil Kings having clinched playoff spots in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. As of March 5, the Medicine Hat Tigers (32-25-3-2, 69), Red Deer Rebels (31-25-4-2, 68 points), and Brandon Wheat Kings (29-24-4-4, 66) remain entrenched in an all-out battle for the two Eastern Conference wild card positions. Sitting third in the Central Division, the Calgary Hitmen (35-22-5-1, 76) can also be included in that group with Brandon currently on the outside looking in.
While the Raiders will be glad to add a Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy to the mantle, it remains one piece to the greater puzzle, all of which builds towards the Rogers WHL Championship and the 101st Memorial Cup presented by Kia in Halifax this May.