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: Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals Preview

The Finals are here…

Two teams who have battled to this point are four wins away from the Memorial Cup. One team has had a relatively easy ride to this point, while the other was expected to coast through the playoffs, but have had some bumps in the road along the way. Let’s analyze these two clubs and how they will matchup up.

Prince Albert Raiders

The Raiders, at one point, were on pace to produce the greatest season in CHL history. However, they slipped up down the stretch, but still finished with the best record in the WHL. After an easy series against Moose Jaw in round one, Prince Albert met a tough Saskatoon team in round two. Despite losing back-to-back games to the Blades, the Raiders were able to settle down and win the final two to meet with a rested Edmonton team in the Eastern Conference Finals. After Dylan Myskiw and Ian Scott went save for save in game one, the Raiders squeaked out with a 1-0 victory. In game two, the Oil Kings stunned the Raiders with an OT win, then won game three, and Prince Albert faced adversity for the first time this postseason. Yet, the talented Raider lineup was able to outlast the Central Division champs, and won three straight to win the series in six to make it to their second ever Finals, and first since they won the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup in 1985.

Depth scoring was important in the latter half of the series for the Raiders. With Noah Gregor and Brett Leason only scoring four points each in the series, others in the lineup needed to step up. A big piece to the wins in games five and six was rookie Aliaksei Protas. The Belorussian centre only had eight points coming in the series, and was held off the score-sheet for the first four games of the series. However, in the final two games of the series, Protas scored a hat trick in both games. Not too shabby for a player who only scored 11 goals during the regular season. Ian Scott’s play in this series cannot be overstated. The Raiders were outshot in four of the six games of the series, with Scott only giving up seven goals, including shutouts in game one and game five.

Vancouver Giants

The best team in the Western Conference during the regular season are the best team coming out of the West in the playoffs. After having issues getting passed Seattle in round one, the Giants made quick work of Victoria in round two before meeting with a hot Spokane Chiefs team in the conference finals. After winning the first two games at the Langley Events Centre, the two teams traded overtime wins in Spokane, before the Giants finished off the Chiefs at home in game five. This will mark the third appearance to the Finals in franchise history, and first since 2007. 

Bowen Byram was at it again for the Giants. One of the top prospects at this summer’s draft scored three goals and two assists in the series against Spokane, and now leads in playoff scoring with 18 points. Dawson Holt stepped up in the conference finals. After only scoring 19 points in the regular season, and seven in the first two rounds, the Saskatoon native scored five points against the Chiefs. This includes Holt scoring a goal and an assist in both game one and game two.

Finally, the Giants went with one goalie in this series. After Trent Miner and David Tendeck split time in the first two rounds, Tendeck was given the number one tag against Spokane, and did not disappoint. The Arizona prospect allowed no more than three goals in any of the five games, and made at least 24 saves in four of the five games in the series, including a 35 save performance in the game three overtime loss, finishing the series with a .935 SV%. 

Preview

Not to sound cliché, but this where we truly see who is the best in the WHL. Both teams have earned their right to be here, and both have experienced some struggles in their postseason, the Raiders arguably more than the Giants. Looking at the goaltending, while Tendeck is the clear no. 1 for Vancouver, it is hard to compare him to Scott, as the Prince Albert netminder was the difference maker for the Raiders against the Oil Kings. You can argue Tendeck was exceptional in net,  but the team in front of him looked far more superior than the Raiders looked in front of Scott. With that said, the Raiders top guns are going to have to step up. Leason and Gregor are going to play big minutes, while players such as Dante Hannoun and Sean Montgomery are going to have find the success they had in the first two rounds. The lone meeting in the regular season saw the Giants win at home over the Raiders, but that was back on January 24th. 

My Pick

This may be the tightest series of all the playoffs. However, Scott is on a roll, and that will halt Vancouver’s offencive onslaught, Raiders in seven.

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

WHL Playoffs: Conference Finals Preview

It certainly was an interesting second round of the WHL Playoffs. While most of the favourites saw their way into the semifinals, there was one series shocked many, including folks from both fan-bases. Four teams remain, all of which are playing at the top of their game. It is now time to see who can continue their postseason run, and make it to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals.

Eastern Conference

(E1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (C1) Edmonton Oil Kings

After defeating provincial-rival Calgary in four games, the Oil Kings arrive to their first conference final since the team’s incredible 2014 season where they won their first Memorial Cup since the original incarnation of the Oil Kings in 1966. With the exception of game four against Calgary, Edmonton had to earn the first three wins of the series, including overtime wins in games one and three. Jake Neighbours scored the game winner in game one, which was the second goal of the game for the Airdrie, Alberta native. He added another goal and two assists in the other three games, leading the Oil Kings in the second round with five points. Dylan Myskiw had a bounce back series in net, only giving up four goals in the first three games of the series, before picking up a shootout in the game four clinching victory.

The Raiders had a little more work to do in round two compared to their first round series against Red Deer. With Kirby Dach leading the way, Saskatoon exposed some weaknesses in Prince Albert that had been rarely seen this year. After the Raiders won games one and two, the Blades turned around and won both games at home. Prince Albert was able to stop Saskatoon’s momentum with two dominating wins to end the series in six. Dante Hannoun had an incredible series for the Raiders. He scored 10 points in the series, including a hat trick in game six, and is now tied with Vancouver’s Davis Koch for the lead in playoff scoring. Brett Leason seemed to have returned to the form that was seen early in the regular season, with nine points in the series, eight of which being assists.

If the Oil Kings want to make it to the finals, Trey Fix-Wolansky is going to have step up, especially since he only mustered up a single assist against the Hitmen. It will be extremely tough going up against a defence in Prince Albert that only allowed 13 goals in the six games, with the help of WHL Goaltender of the Year Ian Scott. Edmonton’s Wyatt McLeod, Conner McDonald and co. need to be on top of their game to slow down a Raider offence that came alive in the beginning and end of their second round series. Prince Albert handled Edmonton during the regular season, winning three of the four meetings. 

My Pick

The Oil Kings have not been tested by a team like Prince Albert yet in these playoffs, and while the Raiders showed they are mortal against Saskatoon, Edmonton does not have the firepower to keep up with the best team in the regular season. Raiders in five.

Western Conference

(BC1) Vancouver Giants vs. (US2) Spokane Chiefs

The Chiefs pulled off one of the biggest upsets in these playoffs. Despite finishing 12 points behind the division-leading Everett Silvertips in the regular season, Spokane took care of the ‘Tips in five games in very convincing fashion. Only one of the Chiefs’ wins in the series was a one-goal game. This is the first time Spokane has made it to the conference finals since 2011, and are looking for their first trip to the finals since 2008, the year the Chiefs won the Chynoweth Cup and the franchise’s second Memorial Cup. Ty Smith had a much more offencive second round. After only three points against Portland in round one, the New Jersey draft pick picked up five assists against Everett, including a pair in game five. Going up against Dustin Wolf, Bailey Brkin was the lesser of the two, on paper. However, the Sherwood Park, Alberta outplayed Wolf in the series, stopping 135 of 144 shots in the series, with a 1.81 GAA in the series.

The Giants come in to their first conference final since 2010 after waltzing passed Victoria in a four-game sweep. After Trent Miner stepped up with a shutout in game one, the Giants pulled off back-to-back overtime wins, before finishing the job in game five with a 6-1 victory. Miner and David Tendeck split the series once again. Miner’s shutout was overshadowed by a rough game four where he allowed four goals on 20 shots. Tendeck only allowed two goals on 28 shots in his two wins. Jared Dmytriw stepped up for the Giants’ offence in round two, with a team-leading six points in the series, including a goal and two assists in game four. 

This series is going to come down to the goaltenders. If Brkin can play like he did against Everett, that will take a load off of the Chiefs’ offence, which was fairly spread out in the series. There is no reason Michael Dyck should fray away from splitting Tendeck and Miner in this series, as both looked good in net in an albeit short sample size against Victoria. The Giants won both games in Vancouver during the regular season, while the teams split the two meetings at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Offencively, the Giants have the advantage coming into the series, meaning the Chiefs’ Riley Woods and Jaret Anderson-Dolan are going to have to up their game from round two if Spokane wants to hold their own against the Giants.

My Pick

The Chiefs are hot, and with both teams rested, it will be a long series. That said, Vancouver in seven.

All statistics and records from the WHL and Elite Prospects.