P.A. Raiders evoke memories of team’s glory days of the mid-1980s

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 (Raiders franchise record),” admitted 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 on Sunday to play the Saskatoon Blades in a WHL contest — sees many similarities between the Raiders of the mid-80s and the Raiders of today.

The current edition evokes memories of that past glory.

“Maybe the thing I see that most in common is the fact that the building is filled with excited fans,” offered 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 top-ranked CHL 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.”

The Prince Albert Raiders’ Dean Braham finds himself in a squeeze during a 1985 game.

Long-time 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,” admitted Simpson, who now resides in Saskatoon after a lengthy coaching career with the Raiders, New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Red Deer Rebels.

“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 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.

“We had some good players.”

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 along with Neil Davey, Doug Hobson and Don Schmidt.

“So we were pretty solid on defence,” noted 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 admits 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 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 says 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,” noted 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 East Division leaders, but who knew the Raiders would be this good?

“Obviously, we’re real happy with where we sit,” admitted 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 says it’s an every-day process that’s led to some real 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. 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 Ian Scott, who has been outstanding. Up front, forward Brett Leason has been a pleasant surprise.

Prince Albert Raiders forward Sean Montgomery celebrates a goal against the Saskatoon Blades during third-period WHL action at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Sunday, October 14, 2018.

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,” noted 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 home-and-home series with the Brandon Wheat Kings on Saturday night before playing the Blades on 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 (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 line-up 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.”

dzary@postmedia.com

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