"We’re going to party like its 1979."
So said Raiders Jr. Hockey Club president and GM Lorne "Ned" Sanders after his team captured the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League (MMJHL) title on Sat., April 12, with a 4-1 series win over the top-seeded St. Boniface Riels.
The win marked the north Winnipeg team’s first Jack McKenzie Trophy in 35 years, and only its second championship since the league started in 1977.
"At ages 17 to 21, I don’t think they recognize it now, but these are special times in their life, they’re forging relationships and bonds with their teammates that will last a long time," said Sanders, an original Raider, although not a member of the 1979 team.
Sanders said the Raiders goaltending pair of Mat McIntosh and Brenden Fiebelkorn was excellent all playoffs, with Fiebelkorn sporting an 8-0 record and a sparkling 1.25 goals against average and .959 save percentage.
Sanders also praised the play of Raiders veterans like Jordan Lisowick, Ryan Magalas and Ryan Seekings. Lisowick, a defenceman, was named the MMJHL’s MVP of the playoffs after leading the league in postseason scoring with nine goals and 16 points in 13 games.
Sanders said the Raiders also had the benefit of having home rink advantage, even when away from Billy Mosienko Arena.
"Throughout the playoffs, we’d go into the other team’s building and it was like a home game," Sanders said.
"This community is very proud of us. Pembina Valley (the Raiders semi-finals opponents), they play out of Morris, Manitoba, and yet, we’d have a ton of fans there. Raiders fans came early and they cheered loudly. We’d score a goal in the opposition building and the place would go nuts.
"I’ll never forget how our fans just supported this team, and in droves. We like to call them ‘Raider Nation.’"
With a record of 12 wins and one loss in the playoffs, it appears the Raiders cruised through the playoffs, but Lisowick said that wasn’t the case.
"At one point during one of the games against Pembina Valley, we had to bring a forward back on defence just so we could have two defence pairs," Lisowick said.
"We were down to three D between injuries and guys getting kicked out, so we were definitely battling numbers for a bit.
"That was a tough game but we managed to step up and do what we needed to do. We were playing against a team that dressed seven defencemen and were rolling their lines. We were rolling ours too, but that’s just because it’s all we have left."
At 21, Lisowick won’t be eligible for the MMJHL next season. A former Winnipeg Thrashers player, Lisowick was courted by the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 2009, but elected to play in the MMJHL. He’s glad he did.
"From the players to the staff, it (the Raiders) was a pretty loose environment," Lisowick said.
"It’s a business, but not super strict, a good environment where you’re happy to go to the rink. It was never a burden. It’s almost like you handpicked your team because a lot of these guys I’ve played with since I was a kid. I got to go to the rink with guys I’d go to the rink with on my own time."