For an underdog, the Raiders Jr. Hockey Club sure has some bite.
Despite a 1-3 start and having 14 new faces in its lineup, the Raiders have climbed above .500, its 8-6 record good for fourth in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League (MMJHL) as of Nov. 4.
"The league is set up for 20 and 21-year-olds, we’re mostly 17 and 18, and I’ve got to tell you, I sleep really good at night," said Lorne Sanders, president and GM of the Raiders. "We’ve got a really good thing going. Our young guys are talented. I think we’re going to be able to run with the big boys."
In addition to big-scoring veterans like Tanner Magalas, Mike Lazo and Eric Hansey, Sanders points to fresh faces like defencemen Keenan Koswin and Eli Batt, gritty forward Nik Lyman and goaltender Brenden Fiebelkorn as to why the Raiders’ future looks bright.
"Brenden played with the Tri-City Americans (Western Hockey League) last year. He actually backed up Eric Comrie, the Winnipeg Jets draft pick," Sanders said. "Then he went to (the Waywayseecappo Wolverines) and then, it’s tragic, his dad passed away earlier this year. Very young, 49. So, Brenden’s decided to come home and be with the family."
Sanders said while the MMJHL offers very good hockey, it’s not as demanding, in terms of time commitments, as the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) or the WHL.
"Our league is still that league where you can play quality hockey, and you can still do your high school, your university," Sanders said. "It’s not a full-time program but we like to run it as best we can, like a Junior A program. We practise twice a week, we do dryland training, we play on weekends and we do lots of stuff off the ice, lots of community service work."
In addition to wanting to be home with his mom after his dad’s passing, Fiebelkorn said there were a number of other reasons for choosing the Raiders.
"All my friends from the area play with the Raiders," said Fiebelkorn, who grew up in the Maples and went to Garden City Collegiate.
"I didn’t really want to leave home again this winter, and it was a good chance to play at home with some friends and still play some good hockey, as well as give me chance to start school. Next year I’m starting electrical engineering at Red River College."
Fiebelkorn said he’s a patient, positionally-sound, puck-moving goaltender and patterns his style after NHL goalies Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, for his puck-tracking ability, and the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, who stays deep in the crease.
Like Sanders, Fiebelkorn thinks the Raiders are just going to get better as the year goes on, pointing to the fact that six-foot-four star defenceman Jordan Lisowick recently rejoined the team.
"I think we’re just hitting our stride," Fiebelkorn said. "We’ve got 15 goals in our last two games. I don’t think the 6-6 start is what it’s going to be like all year by any means, just chalk that up to a learning curve.
"I think we’re going to make some noise this year."
For the team’s game schedules, stats and updates, visit www.mmjhl.ca