Peter Anholt has seen the game of hockey change immensely over the years, but he still holds a special place in his heart for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Who wouldn’t after winning provincial titles in three straight years plus going on to claim a pair of national championships? But, the former captain of the Prince Albert Raiders says the league was a special place in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
“It was a strong league back then,” says Anholt. “It didn’t matter what rink you went into it was always a hard game.”
“All of the franchises were very strong,” added Anholt. “We had a real good rivalry with Humboldt and a bitter rivalry with Moose Jaw.”
Anholt grew up playing his minor hockey in Naicam and when he was 16 years old he joined the Melfort TMs of the North Saskatchewan Junior B League, a farm team for the Raiders.
A stay-at-home defenseman, Anholt tried as a 17-year-old to crack the lineup of the juggernaut Raider squad, but was denied a spot and returned home to Naicam to play senior hockey.
“I thought in a sense, it was all done,” admits Anholt.
On January 10, 1978 – he remembers the date well – he was called up to play for the Raiders as an injury replacement and “that kind of revived me again.”
Anholt made the team permanently the following year and began a stretch of success that is unprecedented.
“I was real comfortable (in Prince Albert) as I played with a lot of the guys in Melfort,” explains Anholt. “Eric Ponath was the captain (he is also Anholt’s cousin) and he was such a great leader and taught me so much.”
“We had a good team, a real solid team,” added Anholt.
The Raiders steamrolled to their fourth straight provincial title that year, but it almost didn’t happen.
“It’s funny how certain things stand out,” says Anholt with a smile. “We were down 3-0 to Swift Current (in the North Division final) and we won Game 4 down there. When we came back home for Game 5, the standing ovation we got, even to this day, sends shivers down my spine.”
Prince Albert would win that game and complete the remarkable comeback to advance to the league final against Moose Jaw, whom they beat in six games and with a win over Selkirk in the Anavet Cup final, hosted their second national championship in three years.
“I remember scoring the overtime winning goal (against the Sherwood Parkdale Metros from PEI) in the final and earlier in the tournament I had scored an overtime goal against Guelph. It finished off the year for me in an unbelievable way.”
Prince Albert would advance to the western final the following year against the Brent Sutter-led Red Deer Rustlers, but another championship was not in the cards. Anholt, however, capped off his amazing junior career in 1981 when he won his second Centennial Cup, this time as the captain. Anholt says there was one person responsible for what he experienced.
“Simpso (coach and general manager Terry Simpson) brought it all together,” says Anholt. “He was a guy I was scared of initially then respected immensely. He became my mentor as a coach and has become my best friend. Our relationship has evolved unbelievably thoughout the years.”
“He had a real knack of getting players to lead themselves,” adds Anholt.
Once done with the Raiders Anholt moved on to the University of Saskatchewan where he helped the Huskies reach the CIS final in 1982 before being part of the only championship team that school has won in men’s hockey the following year.
Anholt returned to the Raiders in 1986 as an assistant coach with the Western Hockey League version of the franchise and beginning in 1989 he would be a head coach for more than 900 games with the Raiders, Seattle Thunderbirds, Kelowna Rockets, Red Deer Rebels and once again with Prince Albert.
Anholt is now the superintendent at the Waskesiu Lake Golf Course in addition to being a scout with the Thunderbirds. He says he still gets to a few SJHL games and likes what he sees.
“The games I have been to are good and the coaching is very good at that level,” says Anholt. “They are all good towns to live in and the rinks continue to get better. Saskatchewan is a province doing very well and everyone should benefit and it looks like the SJHL is also benefitting.”
“Ultimately you give the kids information if they ask,” adds Anholt on his role as a scout. “They have to make up their own minds, but from midget to Junior A they have the one-time ability to pick where they want to play.”
And, that is where Anholt says the league has to be more proactive.
“It is important for the SJHL management leaders to promote their league and the individual organizations,” says Anholt. “It’s not a slam dunk for them (players) to come to you automatically. There are other choices and it is imperative that they sell themselves.”
Something the league is definitely trying to do.