The Prince Albert Raiders still have some moves to make and this weekend will be the last chance for a number of players to impress the coaching staff when a doubleheader against the Saskatoon Blades begins tonight at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
The Raiders, who are coming off back-to-back 4-3 victories over the Regina Pats last week, will be looking to trim the roster by as many as three players before the regular season begins next Friday in Saskatoon.
Those victories appear to have given pollsters some added belief that the Raiders are a contender this year as the initial pre-season BMO rankings for the Canadian Hockey League have the Raiders rated sixth overall. The London Knights are first followed by Baie-Comeau and the Portland Winterhawks. The Edmonton Oil Kings are eighth and Kootenay Ice complete the top 10 in tenth place.
General manager Bruno Campese says that the goaltending situation is firmed up (Cole Cheveldave and Nick McBride), but at least one defenseman and possibly a couple of forwards still have to be moved. He says this weekend will go a long way in making those decisions.
“We have three more spots to pare down and they get tougher (at this juncture),” says Campese. “We have got to make a couple of tough decisions.”
The roster currently stands at 27 and that includes defenseman Josh Morrissey who is still with the Winnipeg Jets and Chance Braid, who has made it to the main camp of the Washington Capitals. Jayden Hart (Boston Bruins) and Mike Winther (Dallas Stars) are both back in Prince Albert after brief auditions last weekend.
A number of players are believed to be on the bubble including 16-year-olds Dylan Stewart and Mateo Gennaro and 17-year-olds Darcy Zaharichuk, Lance Yaremchuk and Joshua Passolt at the forward position while Tyler Dea, Tomas Adrlik and Mackenzie Stewart appear to be the three rearguards fighting for the final spot on the blueline. All three are 18 years old.
Tonight’s game will be the first of four straight between the Raiders and Blades as the two will finish off the pre-season on Saturday in Warman before opening the regular campaign next weekend. Campese says this is an oddity having the Blades for so many games in a row.
“For the newer guys who don’t know about the rivalry, they are going to find out real quick,” says Campese. “The interesting part is we never play them last in the exhibition season. Now we play them four times in a 10-day period or less so it is going to be a lot of fun I think.”
Campese added that despite the tough decisions that are forthcoming, the next week will be a key part of the Raider history as the new uniforms and new players will be unveiled when the season begins.
Saskatoon comes to Prince Albert with a totally different look this year as last season they were the Memorial Cup hosts; this year they are rebuilding. They also have a new owner as Mike Priestner from Edmonton purchased the club last week from Jack Brodsky for a reported $9 million.
One thing that is similar is both clubs have new coaches as Cory Clouston is the bench boss in Prince Albert while David Struch takes over the reins from Lorne Molleken for Saskatoon.
Regardless of what time of year a Raider-Blade game is always intense. With spots on the team up for grabs that just adds that much more fuel to the fire.