Memorial Cup Team Preview: Prince Albert Raiders

As good as they were…

in the regular season, the Prince Albert Raiders were tested in the WHL Playoffs. After an easy series with Moose Jaw, the Raiders ran into some very tough competition down the stretch. After Kirby Dach and Saskatoon gave Prince Albert their first taste of adversity, Prince Albert followed that up with a tough six game series against Edmonton in the conference finals. Then, in the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals, they met with the second-best team in the WHL, the Vancouver Giants. The Giants gave the Raiders everything they had, forcing the series to go the distance after being down 3-1. In overtime in game seven, Noah Gregor found Dante Hannoun to score the game-winning goal, giving Prince Albert their first Ed Chynoweth Cup since 1985. That was the last and only time the Raiders ever won the championship and made it to the Memorial Cup, where they beat the Shawinigan Cataractes to win the tournament. This year’s team has shown that they deserve to be here at this point of the season, let’s see why.

Four-Headed Beast Leads the Offence

Scoring has not been an issue all season for the Raiders, even more so in the playoffs. Four of the top five playoff scorers came from the Prince Albert lineup, led by Brett Leason. The Calgary native had a hot start to the regular season, but cooled off following the World Juniors Tournament. Leason found his touch again in the playoffs, and ended up leading the Raiders in playoff scoring with 25 points. He had nine points in both the second round and the finals, and had three games where he tallied three points or more. Leason looks to enter this summer’s draft, and his performance this season has certainly given him the right to get a call from a GM in the NHL.

At points where Leason faded during the season, Noah Gregor stepped up for the Raiders. After finishing right behind Leason for second in team scoring, Gregor had an incredible postseason. The San Jose prospect scored well above a point-per-game average, scoring 24 points in the playoffs, and had a big series in the finals, especially when it mattered most. In game seven, Gregor potted two goals in regulation, before assisting on the game-winner in overtime. The Beaumont, AB native has shown veteran leadership all season long, and looks to make his last shot at junior hockey glory count.

The player Gregor set up for that championship-clinching goal, Dante Hannoun, was another over-aged centre that played a big role for the Raiders. Ever since being picked up from Victoria at the trade deadline, Hannoun has meshed well with the Prince Albert roster, and was looked upon to score big goals in their postseason run. The Delta, BC native scored 14 goals in the playoffs, which was most in the playoffs, and his 24 points tied him with Gregor for third among WHLers. 

While the over-agers were playing some of their best playoff hockey of their careers, one rookie made quite the first impression in his first postseason in the WHL. Aliaksei Protas showed that he was ready for the big stage throughout Prince Albert’s run. The Belorussian only scored 40 points during the season, but in the playoffs Protas shined scoring 22 points for the Raiders. 15 of those points came in the final two series, including seven points in the seven-game final. Protas has shown throughout the playoffs that, despite this being his first time around the block, he is fully capable of playing a big role on such a veteran-laden roster. 

Ian Scott is Looking Good as Usual

A team can score as many goals as they want, but if they do not have someone watching their back, making sure the other team does not, then it would be all for naught. Thankfully for Prince Albert, they do not have that issue in the slightest with Ian Scott between the pipes. The Toronto prospect has been the best goaltender from day one in the WHL, and earned the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy for WHL Goaltender of the Year. In the playoffs, Scott really shined. He led all WHL goaltenders with a 1.96 GAA and .925 SV%, including five shutouts. The Calgary native had to be big when the Raiders were tested the latter stages of the playoffs, especially when it mattered most. Scott held off a stellar Vancouver attack in the finals, garnering two shutouts. Even though Scott’s overall numbers slowed down after the Raiders incredible start to the season, his calm demeanor and consistent play has back-boned this Prince Albert team. Going up against some of the best teams they have faced all season, the Raiders are going to need Scott to be at his best in the Memorial Cup.

All statistics and records are from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

While there were not any upsets worth mentioning coming out of the first round of the WHL playoffs, that does not mean there was not any action in the eight series. This can only mean the second round will be even tighter and more exciting to watch. With most of the upper seeds advancing to the next round, only the best of the best is left to see who makes it to the conference finals.

Eastern Conference

East Division Final: (1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (2) Saskatoon Blades

The Raiders continue their incredible season into the second round after an easy sweep of the Red Deer Rebels. The most interesting part of the series victory was the wide-spread, and depth scoring the Raiders possessed. While leading-scorer Noah Gregor had five points, rookies Aliaksei Protas and Ozzy Wiesblatt were exceptional as well. Protas put up two goals and two assists in the first two games of the series, and Wiesblatt, who only scored 15 goals in the regular season, scored three times against Red Deer.

While Saskatoon was able to slide passed Moose Jaw in four games, it certainly felt like more. Three of the four games were decided by one goal, with two of the them being decided in overtime. Max Gerlach and Kirby Dach led the Blades with five points in the series, with each scoring in the clinching win in game four. Nolan Maier was superb in net, only allowing eight goals against in the entire series.

These two teams are the only ones who made it out of the first round in the minimum number of games. Just goes to show how dominant they were compared to their opponents. Prince Albert handled the Blades during the regular season, winning six of the eight meetings. However, Saskatoon is hot, winning eight of their last night games dating back to the regular season. Their lone defeat was at the hands of the Raiders…the night after the Blades had defeated the them in Saskatoon.

My Pick

This series will be determined by the goaltenders, and Ian Scott is playing extremely well, Raiders in six.

Central Division Final: (1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (3) Calgary Hitmen

The Oil Kings had their hands full against Mads Sogaard and the Medicine Hat Tigers, but Edmonton was able to clinch after a come-from-behind overtime win in game six. Trey Fix-Wolansky was his usual self, tied for the team lead in points with seven. He was tied with Vince Loshciavo, who finished second on the team with 62 points during the regular season. Loschciavo scored four goals during the series, including the game-winner in game six to help the Oil Kings advance.

Calgary was not expected to slow down the talented offence that Lethbridge possessed, but with the offencive outbursts from the Hitmen’s own lineup, the Hurricanes were taken down by Calgary in a classic seven game series. Calgary managed to score five or more goals four times in the first round, much thanks to depth scoring, as nine Hitmen had five or more points. Carson Focht, Mark Kastelic, and Dakota Krebs all led the team with seven points in the series. Kastelic scored five goals, despite missing games three and four with a concussion. Focht was the first star in game seven, with two goals, including the game-winner.

It’s the Battle of Alberta in the playoffs, what more could you ask for? The Hitmen know they have it in tough, as they won only one of the eight meetings against their provincial rivals, with the Oil Kings outscoring Calgary by a 19 goal margin. The Hitmen are certainly riding high coming off an upset win, so it will be interesting to see how long they ride the wave of momentum into this series.

My Pick

Despite showing some weakness in round one, the Oil Kings’ confidence is as high as it has been this season, but the Hitmen will keep it close. Edmonton wins in seven.

Western Conference

B.C. Division Final: (1) Vancouver Giants vs. (2) Victoria Royals

Victoria did not have the easiest series against Kamloops in round one. However, despite the Blazers picking up a win on the road and at home, the Royals were able to bunker down and take games five and six convincingly to move on. Rookie Phillip Schultz really stepped up in the series, scoring nine points in the six game series, which was tied for second among playoff scorers. 

Vancouver did not have an easy time either against Seattle in the first round. However, the Giants were able to squeak passed the upstart Thunderbirds in six. Davis Koch led all players with 10 points in the six games, nine of which being assists. Bowen Byram continues to increase his draft stock, with three goals and five assists in the series, including a three-point performance in game three. Jadon Joseph piled on the goals for Vancouver, with six goals in the series, tied for the most among goal scorers. Trent Miner and David Tendeck split time in net during the first round, with Miner playing better than his teammate. Expect Head Coach Michael Dyck to go with Miner for the rest of the Giants’ run.

This series could be quite close, despite the two teams finishing so far apart in the regular season. Vancouver won four of the five meetings at the Langley Events Centre, while Victoria managed three wins on their home ice. With that, home ice advantage favours the Giants. Goaltending will be important, as always, and Miner and Griffen Outhouse are two very equal netminders. Vancouver is looking to avenge the game seven loss at the hands of the Royals in the first round of the playoffs last year.

My Pick

Victoria will give a spirited effort, but Vancouver’s offence will bury the Royals. Giants in six.

U.S. Division Final: (1) Everett Silvertips vs. (2) Spokane Chiefs

Spokane walked over a decimated and depleted Portland lineup. Despite a couple close overtime wins, the Chiefs eliminated the Winterhawks in five games. Riley Woods, who led the Chiefs in scoring during the regular season, led the team in the first round with eight points. Adam Beckman and Jack Finley were solid in their first playoff experiences in the WHL. Beckman scored three goals with a pair of assists, while Finley helped set up the offence with four assists.

Everett had a fairly easy first round against Tri-City, beating the Americans in a five game series. Bryce Kindopp was excellent with five goals and four assists in the series, including a hat trick in game five. Martin Fasko-Rudas only put up 31 points during the regular season, but caught fire in round one, scoring eight points in the five games. Dustin Wolf was consistent in net as he was all season, and was the best goaltender in the first round, with a 1.60 GAA and .937 SV% in the series.

The Chiefs did not have the best luck against the ‘Tips this season, as Everett won six of the eight games, including winning two in Spokane. With how good Wolf has been for the Silvertips this season, Spokane’s Bailey Brkin will have to be outstanding, but it is hard to measure him up against one of the best goaltenders in the CHL. 

My Pick

Persistent offencive pressure and Wolf in net is going to be too much for Spokane, ‘Tips in five.

All statistics and records from the WHL and Elite Prospects.