“The boys of ’85 no longer stand alone,” exclaimed Raiders’ play-by-play broadcaster Trevor Redden in eloquent fashion, immediately following Dante Hannoun’s goal in overtime of Game 7 in the 2019 Rogers WHL Championship Series.
As the Art Hauser Centre erupted for the goal by the long-time Victoria Royal turned Raider in January, a flood of historical memories and thoughts for the future immediately began to go from dreams to reality for Saskatchewan’s northern-most WHL team.
Not only memories of the team’s historic run in 1985, but their attempts in the many years following to replicate that success, coming close in 1999 and 2005 before the triumph of 2019.
United by a hockey-crazed city that stuck it out through all manner of weather conditions throughout the season to secure their front-row seat for action, the Raiders had an outpouring of support from their fans young and old. For those hours spent in the snow and cold, it was all worth it.
“We’re a small market and it takes a lot to make this thing work,” said Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid following his team’s victory Monday. “A couple years ago, we were probably getting 1,200 people in the building. That’s tough to survive on that.
“You can do all the marketing you want, but in the end, it’s winning that is your best marketing.”
It’s more of a telling feat as to how the Raiders got there so quickly the first time. Entering the league for the 1982-83 WHL Regular Season, the Raiders struggled in their first year with a record of 16-55-1, giving up 455 goals in 72 games. The next season saw marked improvement as they went 41-29-2 in the 72-game season to post 84 points and finish fifth in the East Division.
That’s where they received their first lesson in the strength and will required to succeed in the WHL Playoffs. Up against the Medicine Hat Tigers, the Albertan team wasted little time in dispatching the upstart Raiders in five games.
In 1985, the Raiders had the right mix of talent. Dan Hodgson led the team with an incredible 182 points (70G-112A) in the regular season and posted an additional 36 points (10G-26A) in 13 playoff games.
Players bound for the NHL ranks included the legendary Dave Manson, Manny Viveiros, Pat Elynuik, Dave Pasin, Steve Gotaas, and many more. Curtis Hunt, the architect of the this year’s team as General Manager, contributed a tidy 15 points (2G-13A) from the blue line in his rookie season with the team.
Their 58 wins, still unmatched by any Raiders team to this day, saw them rise to first in the league during the regular season. With memories of last year’s early exit still in their mind, the Raiders didn’t need to worry about that situation this time around, earning the all-important bye in the first round.
In the second round, the Raiders would be forced to contend with the Calgary Wranglers and Doug Moffatt, coming off a regular season that saw him notch 62 goals in 71 games. However, the Raiders would come through with the sweep, closing out the series with 9-2, 8-1, 8-6, and 6-2 victories.
That lined up a rematch against the Tigers with a spot in the WHL Championship Series on the line. Finishing second to the Raiders in the regular season, the Tigers were still just as strong as they had been the year before and used their first-round bye to rest up before winning a five-game series against the Regina Pats.
Wins of 6-2 and 5-1 put the Raiders in a comfortable 2-0 advantage early on heading onto the road. Looking to avoid the 3-0 deficit in the series, the Tigers roared to an 11-3 victory on home ice in Game 3.
As stinging as that loss was, it only sparked the Raiders, who won Game 4 6-3 in Medicine Hat, then returned home for a 4-2 win in Game 5.
That’d slot the Raiders into the WHL Championship Series against the Kamloops Blazers. The year before, the Kamloops Junior Oilers had risen to the top of the league, eventually claiming the title with a 4-3 series victory against the Regina Pats.
Primed with talent of their own and led by future NHLer Rob Brown, the Blazers posed a formidable matchup of their own.
However, wins of 4-2 and 7-3 once again gave the Raiders a 2-0 series advantage as they headed onto the road. The change in venue would not change the result in Kamloops’ favour though. Scores of 8-5 and 8-4 in Games 3 and 4, respectively, secured the series sweep and title for the Raiders.
“The perspective is so much different,” Hunt said, comparing the two championship teams. “My message to our players before we started the post-season is enjoy every moment, enjoy every person, the things we have together, the things we go through.”
That victory would grant the Raiders entry into the 1985 Memorial Cup.
In Shawinigan & Drummondville, Que. the Raiders took a 6-2 loss in the opening game to the host Shawinigan before earning a 5-3 victory versus Verdun to move to 1-1. Back-to-back wins against Sault Ste. Marie then advanced them into the championship game against Shawinigan. There, they’d get their revenge on the host team with a 6-1 win, claiming the title.
In the years following, the likes of Mike Modano, Chris Phillips, Josh Morrissey, Leon Draisaitl, and Brendan Guhle, among many others would look to replicate that 1985 performance. Now, players in the years following 2019 will try to replicate the likes of Hannoun, Gregor, Leason, Kelly, Pachal, and Scott.
As much as this year’s team will eventually move onto different paths with professional hockey beckoning for some and post-secondary educations for others, their legacy will live on.
The setup for the 2019 Memorial Cup Presented by Kia is like it was in 1985 with one entrant from the Ontario Hockey League and two from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Halifax Mooseheads as the host squad.
Adding another Memorial Cup to their trophy case would be sweet, but the Raiders as individuals and as a team have provided the promise of a new stronger generation for the team and its fans moving forward.