Memorial Cup contenders starting to emerge from the pack

A disappointing 2016-17 season has helped turn the Prince Albert Raiders into the No. 1 club in the Canadian Hockey League.

The Raiders finished third last in the 22-team Western Hockey League that year and missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. They had two nine-game losing streaks en route to a 21-44-7 record and felt disrespected by the opposition.

But the players haven’t forgotten about it, with eight of them still on the roster, and in 2018-19 Prince Albert has already surpassed its win total a third of the way into the season. The Raiders are riding a league-best 18-game win streak after beating the Red Deer Rebels 4-3 on Tuesday.

“A few players that are on the team now were on that (‘16-17) team and there were some teams that were kind of insulting and kicked sand in our faces and we remember that,” said Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid.

“We carry that with us even this year and we’ve talked about that. We’ve tried to lose the right way, and win the right way now, too. We respect everyone we play against. If we get up on a team, we certainly don’t want to rub it in their faces. We’ve had that done and it’s not a lot of fun.”

The Raiders are 25-1-0 and have been ranked No. 1 in the 60-team CHL for seven weeks, with no other club being able to knock them off.

Habscheid is pleased with his club’s early-season run to the top, but also says its a meaningless accomplishment without any type of playoff success.

“There’s only one bad thing in all this type of stuff, they’re not handing out any after 25-games trophies or banners or anything like that,” said Habscheid. ”We’ve got a long ways to go, we haven’t really done anything yet but have a great start.”

The Raiders have already broken their previous franchise-best win streak of 15 games from the 1985-86 season.

“The players go, ‘oh really?’ They’re not even aware of it, they’re just living the life day by day,” Habscheid said.

Prince Albert stands out as an early-season front runner for the Memorial Cup, but there are other potential contenders emerging from the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League thanks to some other lengthy streaks.

The OHL’s Ottawa 67’s started the season 3-3-0, but have gone 18-0-4 since to pick up at least one point in 22 straight games.

Ottawa head coach Andre Tourigny says a number of things have led to the club’s rise to the top of the OHL standings and the No. 3 spot in the CHL rankings.

“First and foremost, it started last year with the fitness level, intensity, hard work, and our leaders,” said Tourigny. ”I think that built up and the players arrived at camp and were ready to work. The commitment from everybody, we have a great group of leaders, it turned into confidence and we started to have success and now we’re feeding off it.”

Right behind the 67’s at No. 4 in the CHL rankings are the surging London Knights, who are on a 14-0-1 run and now sit first in the OHL’s Western Conference. Meanwhile, the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies are riding a 10-game win streak and have moved to No. 2 in the CHL rankings.

While the past few weeks have been good to teams like Prince Albert, Ottawa, London and Rouyn-Noranda, the same can’t be said about the Saint John Sea Dogs at the other end of the spectrum.

The youngest team in the country with a large group of 16- and 17-year-old skaters, the Sea Dogs are in the midst of a 17-game losing streak — a team record — and sit 2-21-3 overall. Their seven points ties them for the least amount amongst the 60 teams across the CHL with the OHL’s Flint Firebirds, who opened the season on a 17-game losing streak of their own and are 3-22-1 overall.

“You can learn a lot from this. They know this is a process and there are very bright things ahead, but in the short term it’s not easy,” said Saint John general manager Trevor Georgie.

“We’d be discouraged if our young nucleus wasn’t staying positive or doing good things.”

A lot of things have to go right to put together a streak like Prince Albert’s, and that was on full display on Nov. 17 when goaltender Ian Scott scored his first career goal while stopping 23 shots in a 3-1 win over the Tri-City Americans.

“We were laughing because he tried it the game before and he hit the clock in our building,” said Habscheid. “Him and I the day before he scored, we were standing under the clock looking at the dent in it.”

The WHL record for consecutive wins was set across two seasons in 1981 by the Victoria Cougars with 24. The Knights own the OHL point-streak record at 31 when they went 29-0-2 in 2004-05, the ‘04-05 Rimouski Oceanic hold the QMJHL record with a 28-game win streak, while the ‘75-76 Shawinigan Dynamo lost a record-setting 27 games in a row.

———

Follow @KyleCicerella on Twitter

Kyle Cicerella’s junior hockey notebook will be published every Thursday.

Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press

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