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Young guns help turn Raiders into contenders

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A pair of 17-year-old rookies are giving the Raiders some extra life this season as they continue their ascent in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League.

Tanner Magalas and Zaz Oleksiw have given the team just what general manager Lorne Sanders looks for in new recruits: "local kids, low maintenance and committed."

Magalas, a Maples resident who came to the Raiders from the Hawks AAA midget program, said he’s been pleasantly surprised by how easily he’s transitioned to junior hockey.

"There are a lot of bigger, faster guys," he said. "But it’s been pretty smooth. I was just hoping to be a second- or third-line guy helping out now and then, but I’ve been up and down between the first and second line lately."

Magalas, whose older brother, Ryan, is also on the team, had 26 points (including 14 goals) through his first 28 games.

Oleksiw, meanwhile, has made an even bigger jump to the junior ranks after spending the last two seasons on the high school team at Sisler.

"I didn’t think I’d fit in this good," said the North End resident. "It’s been a really good experience getting to the junior level at a young age. It’s more competitive, more fun. It’s a good environment to play in."

Oleksiw had 16 points in 27 games while providing the team with some physical, high-energy play.

Heading into the weekend, the Raiders were in third place, three points behind the second-place Fort Garry/Fort Rouge Twins and 15 points behind the powerhouse Charleswood Hawks.

Hockey isn’t the only sport that the two rookies play at a high level. Magalas goes to an lacrosse tournament in Vail, Colo., every year with a local high-performance team, while Oleksiw has quarterbacked Sisler’s football team the past two seasons and plays AAA baseball for the North Winnipeg Pirates.

Both players attended some of the Raiders’ seven-game semifinal loss to the Twins last spring, and both came away hoping to get involved with the rivalry.

"It was mostly back-and-forth hockey," Oleksiw said. "It would be a please to play in a series like that. Hopefully we can beat them."

Added Magalas: "We’d love to go back and beat those guys this year. We want to go to the finals, where we deserve to be."

A trip to the finals would almost certainly mean a matchup against the Hawks, the team Raiders coach Andy Williamson used to lead to championships with regularity.

Oleksiw said Williamson’s experience would give the Raiders a fighting chance in a series against Charleswood.

"It would just be about hard work, and most of all playing as a team," he said. "We’d have to play four lines strong and hopefully find a way."

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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