Victoria and Prince Albert were, of course, historically linked together in Buckingham Palace. In a way, so are the hockey teams in their namesake cities, with one even appropriately nicknamed Royals.
The Prince Albert Raiders, who visit Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre tonight to play the Victoria Royals, have had an eventful decade. It started by lucking into a kid named Leon Draisaitl out of Cologne, Germany, in the CHL import draft for the 2012-13 season.
The Raiders eventually unloaded Draisaitl, Josh Morrissey and Gage Quinney in 2015 to the championship-minded Kelowna Rockets for a flotilla of WHL draft picks, including first-rounders, in trades that would reverberate through the 2018-19 season.
That latter season is when the Royals role in the saga played out with a trade that netted the Raiders 20-year-old, 4½-season Royals veteran forward Dante Hannoun. The Royals also sent the rights to forward Noah Gregor to Prince Albert for conditional compensation almost as an afterthought because nobody in the WHL, other than the Raiders apparently, believed the San Jose Sharks were going to return Gregor to junior hockey. They did. Gregor was instrumental, and Hannoun scored the winning goal in overtime in Game 7 of the league final, as the Raiders won the WHL championship. To really rub it into the Royals, the Raiders captain was Victoria draft pick, Brayden Pachal, who the Royals had given up on. That championship Raiders club was coached by former Royals coach Marc Habscheid. The only thing that might bring joy to Royals fans in the situation was that Hannoun’s championship winning goal came against the Vancouver Giants.
“It’s interesting all the storylines, including with the San Jose Sharks again, and whether they will send [current Royals captain] Gannon Laroque back to junior next season,” said Royals GM and coach Dan Price.
Four years and a pandemic after 2019, the Royals and Raiders share another attribute in 2022-23 as both are fighting desperately to extend their seasons into the playoffs. Victoria is tied with Kelowna for the eighth and final playoff slot in the Western Conference but the Rockets hold three games in hand. Prince Albert’s situation is more dire at 11th place in the Eastern Conference and nine points adrift of a playoff berth.
The Royals (14-28-5) and Raiders (17-25-3) have both rallied of late with reasonable results over their respective last 10 games with Victoria 5-4-1 and Prince Albert 5-5. The Royals are coming off a gut-check 3-2 win Saturday against a Kamloops Blazers squad that features eight NHL draft picks, three Canada world junior championship gold medallists and is hosting the Memorial Cup. The Raiders have won their last two games, including beginning their B.C. Division road swing in Prince George with a 4-1 decision over the Cougars.
“The Raiders are young but structured,” said Price.
“They compete really hard and forecheck like crazy.”
Raiders GM Curtis Hunt, meanwhile began his club’s rebuild last season by trading Montreal Canadiens first-round draft pick Kaiden Guhle to the eventual 2022 WHL-champion Edmonton Oil Kings for two younger players and two WHL first-round draft picks. Hunt continued it this season by dealing Raiders captain, 2023 Canada world junior gold-medallist and NHL first-round Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Nolan Allan to the championship-minded Seattle Thunderbirds for three young players and first-round WHL draft picks in 2023 and 2024, a second-round selection in 2026 and a third round pick in 2024. The Raiders may miss the playoffs this year but they won’t be missing many in the seasons ahead.
The Victoria injury situation, meanwhile, has blue-liner Laroque remaining day-to-day, Canada U-18 forward Brayden Schuurman doubtful for tonight and blue-liner and former WHL draft top-10 pick Austin Zemlak out.