The Prince Albert Raiders can think of at least 40 good reasons to celebrate the coming hockey season.
The Raiders are about to begin their 40th season as a franchise, initially at the junior A level and for the past 28 years in the Western Hockey League.
“The team has meant so much to the community of Prince Albert over 40 years,” Raiders marketing director Bruce Vance said Tuesday during a media gathering at the Art Hauser Centre.
“We’re trying to tug a bit at the heartstrings of the people out there and say, ‘Remember when you were young and your dad took you to a hockey game, and the players you saw.’
“Well, now is the time to turn around and bring your family out to a night of good entertainment, another season of good entertainment, and see our young up-and-coming guys, and continue on the tradition for another 40 years.”
In recent years, the Raiders have struggled to attract fans, so the community-owned organization hopes the 40th-anniversary season is an impetus for more people to show up for the team’s 36 home games.
Party plans were unveiled Tuesday and they begin with Raider Day next Wednesday, on the eve of the Aug. 26 opening of training camp.
A barbecue is planned for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside the Art Hauser Centre, where season-ticket holders can pick up their ticket packages and mingle with Raider players and coaches. The Raider office will remain open until 7 p.m., and prospective fans will have an opportunity to check out available seats in the rink.
“When you go in the Art Hauser Centre during that day on the 25th of August, you will see pieces of paper on the seats that are available,” Vance said. “So if you want to sit in Section 1 … go and sit in it and have a look at the ice.
“We think that’s going to be a good selling point, because I know there are people who say, ‘Well, I want to buy a season ticket, but I don’t know what’s available.’ And now you’re going to be able to see for yourself and go and look at the real estate that is available.”
The Raiders are trying to build their way back to the days when seats in the Art Hauser Centre were at a premium. The team’s 40th-anniversary logo has been painted on centre ice in commemoration of a storied franchise history that includes a Memorial Cup championship in 1985 and four Centennial Cup titles as the Canadian junior A champions.
Highlights of this season’s birthday bash include Dec. 11 and Feb. 18 home games against the Everett Silvertips and Moose Jaw Warriors, respectively. On both nights, the Raiders will wear specialty jerseys.
The Dec. 11 birthday tilt will be one night prior to the anniversary of the Raiders’ first game, a 9-2 win over the Regina Pat Blues on Dec. 12, 1971.
The Raiders’ fourth annual Wall of Honour Night coincides with the Feb. 18 game against Moose Jaw and kicks off a celebratory weekend. The alumni gala is set for Feb. 19 and includes events for alumni, family and fans.
“We’re really trying to celebrate the history,” Vance said. “That’s what it’s all about. It didn’t happen by accident. A lot of people have worked very hard for this organization on a volunteer basis for many years, and it’s really a tribute to the volunteers that the team has been here for 40 years. We’re celebrating that — not only the players, but also the volunteers. We want people to come out and be a part of it.
“When you look in the history books, I believe that the Prince Albert Raiders are the sixth-oldest franchise of the 22 teams in the Western Hockey League.”
Mark Odnokon, a former Raider player and assistant coach, is chairing the alumni committee. He’s been in contact with captains from each decade to advise Raider graduates of alumni weekend.
“I know a lot of the original-day guys are just thrilled that we’re doing this, and we’re going to get a lot of guys from the 1970s coming back,” Vance said. “They’re very excited to return, once again, to Prince Albert and see the Raiders.”
OVERTIME: The 2010-11 edition of the Raiders begins training camp a week from Thursday, with 60 players expected to report. The team’s home-opener is Sept. 25 against the Saskatoon Blades.