--PRINCE ALBERT-- The Raiders, after an intense month of preamble that saw players jostle for spots on the roster, are set to embark south to Saskatoon for a season opener teeming with anticipation.
“I’m really getting fired up for the game tomorrow (Friday),” said Raiders Mark McNeill, whose return Thursday from the Chicago Blackhawks' training camp bolsters the prospects of an already confident crew. “I just want to come back here and work my hardest to help the Raiders out the best I can.”
McNeill said the experience with the Blackhawks was an invaluable one and is intent on leading the green and gold to the promise land. The 18-year-old was named on Thursday, along with 20-year-old Brandon Herrod, as co-captains for the forthcoming season.
After a month of gruelling pre-season action, including the unenviable task of whittling down personnel to a workable roster, Raiders head coach and general manager Bruno Campese is prepared and poised for the puck to drop on the 2011-12 campaign.
“Pre-season is over, training camp is over and everyone is excited,” he said. “You go through a whole month of training camp, you are excited to get going.”
That is the overriding sentiment throughout the Raiders camp. The team appeared relaxed and subtly self-assured during their final practice before battling the Blades in a home-and-home series.
“Most of our guys are ready to go and after that pre-season we had its just going to build our confidence going into the year,” said 16-year-old rookie defenceman Josh Morrissey.
The green and gold are looking to build off of a cracking 3-1 pre-season record. And while the challenge awaiting the Raiders in Saskatoon is a stern one, Morrissey believes that a solid start will alleviate any lingering jitters.
“I think obviously in the first period there is going to be some jitters with a big crowd. We are just hoping to capitalize on our opportunities and get ahead early,” he said.
No decision has been made, Campese said, as to which goaltender will get the starting nod for Friday evening’s showdown. He said both netminders – Eric Williams and Cole Holowenko – performed well in Thursday’s practice, requiring more time with which to deliberate.
Although the hostile environment awaiting the Raiders in Saskatoon has the potential of unnerving some rookies, Campese emphasized the importance of maintaining a calm, cool and collected disposition.
“For a first-time player everything is going to be new to them - anxiety, stress. You just have to get the guys to calm down, relax and go out and have some fun,” he said. “It’s the first game of the season, you’re not winning the championship in the first game.”
The Blades finished their pre-season schedule with a 2-2-1 record.
The puck drops, after months of feverish anticipation, on the 2011-12 Raiders campaign at 7 p.m. from enemy territory, the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon.
Raiders’ raucous faithful will relish the opportunity to up the ante in the return affair for the home opener on Saturday evening.