By Tom Annelin, CJHL Director of Communications
WHILE the quest begins Thursday to determine a new Centennial Cup champion in Estevan, Sask., it was a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League side 50 years ago, the Prince Albert Raiders, that began decade-long run of excellence and made them one of the most-dominant franchises in CJHL history.
Since clubs across the Canadian Junior Hockey League began competing for the Centennial Cup back in 1970-71, the Raiders 10-year stint of success, began in the fall of 1972.
As members of the SJHL, Prince Albert was mired in last place to commence the 1972-73 campaign, when a coaching change in early November brought about an immediate transformation.
A 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Saskatoon Olympics, back on Nov. 7, 1972, saw the Raiders showing only three victories in their opening 11 contests to begin their year as they sat in the basement of the league’s North Division.
The following day, Alf Poulin stepped down as head coach and Terry Simpson was brought in and named the club’s new bench boss.
Intrigued at the opportunity, Simpson believed an organizational belief helped him accept the role.
“The Raiders’ board of directors had a hard and fast rule of zero influence in the hockey operations, which I thought was a key element,” he reflected on having control to run the team his way.
Another factor in his decision to take over the club was the backing of the fan base.
“The old Minto Arena had burned down in the early sixties and there wasn’t a junior hockey team in Prince Albert for around 10 years, so the town really supported the Raiders from the outset,” recalled Simpson after a new venue had been built, which aided them joining the SJHL.
An immediate turn around under his early watch saw the Raiders reel off nine consecutive victories to start his time with the team as they quickly turned their fortunes around.
Going on to wrap-up the regular season in top spot in the SJHL North, with a 33-15-0 mark, they also boasted a league-best 284 goals for.
Despite eventually falling in the divisional final versus the Humboldt Broncos, the foundation had been set for future feats.
The following campaign, the Raiders shared first place overall with the Estevan Bruins, at 70 points apiece, while boasting a SJHL-best 35 wins.
Handling Humboldt in five games in quarter-final play, P.A., put the broom to Saskatoon to claim the division crown, which set-up a date with Estevan in the SJHL final.
Getting a three-goal performance from Stan Jensen in the finale, helped the Raiders capture their initial title, with a four-games-to-one series triumph over the Bruins.
However, they weren’t as fortunate in the opening round of the Centennial Cup playdowns, falling 4-2 to the Selkirk Steelers (MJHL) in a best-of-seven affair.
The 1974-75 season saw the squad lead the SJHL in goals, with 351, and get all the way to the final yet again, only to be ousted by the Swift Current Broncos, in a battle for the championship.
From there though, Prince Albert was unstoppable in the SJHL as they skated away with seven league titles in a row.
Making their first Centennial Cup appearance in 1977, the Raiders rolled over the Pembroke Lumber Kings (CCHL) in a four-game sweep.
Earning most valuable player laurels was the team’s Barry Archibald while he and Al Moore shared top scorer honours.
As national champions, Simpson knew this would only bolster his teams in future years.
“Because we had some success early on, we were able to attract players from a little wider area. The bottom line is we had players that had various degrees of talent, but they were all committed to team success.”
Moving to 1978, Prince Albert was once again Centennial Cup-bound and travelled to Guelph, Ont., to meet a powerful Platers club, who proved to be tough to beat on home ice as they skated away with a four-game sweep.
Left winger Brad Tippett did however earn a place on the all-star squad at forward.
Moving to a three-team format in 1979, Raiders hosted the nationals and proved their mettle as they went on to claim Centennial Cup laurels for a second time.
After finishing first in round robin competition, they defeated the Sherwood-Parkdale Metros (MHL) from Prince Edward Island 5-3 in the title game.
Picking up all-star nods as well were the P.A., trio of Eric Ponrath, Dean Burles and Mark Davidner at forward, defence and goaltender respectively.
Someone who had a front row view of the team’s dominance during that span was current SJHL commissioner Bill Chow, who has resided in Prince Albert for many years, and was witness to the majority of it.
“Hockey was definitely different 40-plus years ago than it is now,” chimed in Chow, who was a life-long Raiders’ season ticket holder.
“Their team toughness was off the charts. You take a look at guys like Lorne Schmidt initially, then if you look at the 1978-79 team, you’ll find someone like Ken Thompson. If you search his stats, you’ll be shocked,” when recalling the physical and skilled brand of hockey that Prince Albert was noted for.
Looking at the numbers, Thompson went on to amass 1,014 penalty minutes in his time in P.A.
Chow also added: “Players like Peter Anholt, Wayne Woodman, Tim Mostowich, Brett Woolsey made them very difficult to play against. Again, it was team toughness. They weren’t dirty, but they were in your face and weren’t going to go away from it.”
Missing out on another nationals appearance in 1980, the Raiders won a fifth straight SJHL title and did likewise in the ANAVET Cup Manitoba-Saskatchewan playoff series, only to be topped by the eventual Centennial Cup winner, Red Deer Rustlers, in the western final.
Undaunted, Prince Albert was back for more in 1981 with an even-stronger line-up that boasted a plethora of talent.
No more so than a future National Hockey League standout defenceman, James Patrick.
That year’s event was held in Halifax, N.S., and saw the Raiders hoist their third national trophy by defeating the Dudley-Hewitt Cup-winning Belleville Bulls 6-4 in the championship game.
Patrick’s brilliance saw him collect both CJHL and Centennial Cup MVP accolades and an all-star nod along with teammates and fellow future NHLers – Greg Paslawski, Dave Tippett and Bill Watson.
Crediting the work of the team’s head scout, Simpson was quick to acknowledge that was a contributing factor in getting Patrick on board.
“We were very fortunate to land James on our team,” offered the then Prince Albert skipper. “It was due to the diligent work of our scout, the late Bob Robson. James was a character player with a high skill set. He had an outstanding season for us, as noted. James fit into the team concept nicely and he was an unbelievable talent. He controlled the play when he was on the ice.”
Patrick registered 82 points from his defensive position during the 1980-81 campaign and also was named the MVP of the league All-Star Game and captured the Raiders Top Defenseman Award. He went on to be selected in the first round of the National Hockey League draft in 1981, ninth overall, by the New York Rangers.
Back to a two-team Canadian final in 1982, the Raiders were all business in sweeping Guelph to win a fourth Centennial Cup in just six seasons.
Outscoring the Platers by over a two-to-one margin, they also saw five of their standouts collect all-star accolades.
They included MVP Carl Van Camp, Barclay Rocheleau and Watson up front along with D-man Dave Reierson and netminder Darryl Pierce.
Having won so many titles in his SJHL run, Simpson was only too eager to deflect praise from himself, to those surrounding him.
“We had a meager scouting staff, but they worked hard and brought in many good players over the years. Our teams were generally known as very physical and high-scoring; a rather unique combination.”
Recognizing the contributions of Robson, Simpson supplied: “Starting with the SJHL Raiders in the fall of 1972, Bob joined me shortly after that and we worked together for 10 years. He was active in assisting with the early development of the organization. Bob was a tireless worker; loyal; honorable and had a dedicated passion for the Raider organization. He spent many hours and drove countless miles looking for potential Raiders. It should be noted that all of Bob’s work was volunteer. He was a good friend and a good recruiter.”
Adding to that, Chow provided additional praise for the Raiders’ legendary bird-dog: “Bob Robson did a lot of work and recruiting for the Raiders. He was there beating the bushes and played an important part in getting so many talented players that led Prince Albert to so much success those years.”
One of those, who was part of two Centennial Cup winning sides and served as a team captain of the 1980-81 squad, was Peter Anholt.
“Pete was basically a hard-working farm boy from Naicam, Sask., who understood leadership. He realized the importance of each player’s role on the team and keeping the team attitude of togetherness in place. He worked hard at his game and that rubbed off on other players. He was the ultimate ‘Gamer’.”
When queried about his four Centennial Cup-winning clubs, Simpson stated: “I believe each team had their own identity, but a common thread of all the teams we had in Prince Albert was a commitment to winning. This commitment was instilled in the early teams and the players held each other accountable as we continued on. I think the intense community interest also contributed to the successful program, by whetting the winning attitude with the players.”
Nearing an 11-year run as SJHL commissioner, Chow looks back at watching those talented Raiders’ squads and sees two key factors, that symbolized their greatness: “They definitely had the skill, but also had the character to win.”
Chow went on to offer: “When you look at so many of his players that went on to play professionally, in the NCAA or WHL, Terry’s fingerprints are all over that. Same with all the countless others who got into coaching, scouting and the like.”
Recording 433 regular season victories in regular season play during his time in Prince Albert and many more in the postseason, along with a multitude of championships, the accomplishments achieved by Simpson’s Raiders teams remains a tough act to follow.
Looking back fondly, Simpson summarized his time in the SJHL & CJHL.
“We had a very successful 10-year run with this part of the organization. Those SJHL teams were a beacon for Prince Albert and the city was abuzz in support of them. I had the extreme pleasure of being involved with the organization. Overall, it was an incredible journey.”
Now five decades later, the 10 competing CJHL clubs at the Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons, will all be in search of building on their own accomplishments, starting Thursday, in their respective pursuits to win a national Jr. A title.