Saturday, 18 March 2017

Raiders deliver big send off

“Hockey Town North” faithful treated to 5-1 season ending win

Captain Tim Vanstone salutes the Prince Albert fans.
    PRINCE ALBERT - “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” was ringing through the rafters of the Art Hauser Centre with over a minute to play in Saturday’s WHL game.
    It was that good of a night for the host Raiders, who downed their arch rivals the Saskatoon Blades 5-1 before a crammed crowd of 2,953 spectators. The Blades got out to a 1-0 lead in the first period, before the Raiders roared back with five straight goals through the final 40 minutes.
    Fitting a traditional clash between the Raiders and Blades, the night also contained a couple of fights and a few scrums. The win allowed the Raiders to finish the regular season with a 21-44-5-2 record, which included posting a 13-13-4 record after the WHL’s trade deadline passed on Jan. 10.
    While the Raiders had been long eliminated from playoff contention, overage captain Tim Vanstone said that Saturday’s win was still a good way for him to go out along with his overage teammates Kolten Olynek and Cavin Leth.
    “I didn’t script it like this for sure,” said Vanstone. “It just shows how much everyone cared.
    “We pulled for each other. It wasn’t just for me, Cavin (Leth) and Olyny (Olynek). It was for everybody.
    “This crest means way more than gold to a lot of those guys in that room. I think the foundation has been set, and they are just going to roll with it next year.”
Captain Tim Vanstone jets up ice for the Raiders.
    Vanstone played all five seasons of his major junior career with the Raiders having been selected in the third round and 52nd overall by the club in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft. The Swift Current product appeared in 299 career regular season games collecting 36 goals, 58 assists and 318 penalty minutes. He couldn’t imagine spending his career anywhere else.
    “I think you just look back and put it in perspective I guess the hard times, the good times and the long bus trips,” said Vanstone. “It is all worth it at the end of the day.
    “I think the biggest thing for me is I spent it in the same place. I went to the same places to eat. I saw the people at the same places.
    “No matter how good your game was or how bad your game was, they love you no matter what.”
    During the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s games, the Blades were doing their best to spoil the Raiders home finale. At the 5:39 mark of the opening frame, Blades winger Mason McCarty potted the rebound from a point shot to put the visitors ahead 1-0.
Simon Stransky controls the puck on the power play for the Raiders.
    Momentum changed in the second period, when Czech winger Simon Stransky went to work for the Raiders. He popped home a pair of goals to put the Raiders ahead 2-1.
    He then combined with Leth to set up winger Curtis Miske to score off a backdoor play while working on a power play to extend the host’s edge to 3-1. Miske’s tally was his 20th goal of the season.
    The Raiders kept rolling in the third, when centre Adam Kadlec and defenceman Cody Paivarinta tallied singles one minute and 34 seconds apart from each other.
    Ian Scott made 24 stops to pick up the win goal for the Raiders. Brock Hamm stopped 26 shots to take the loss in goal for the Blades.
    Vanstone ended up engaged with Blades defenceman Evan Fiala in a second period fight and finished his final WHL outing with a plus-one rating in the plus-minus department and 19 minutes in penalties.
    When the Raiders overage players were called out as the game’s three stars, Vanstone took a decent sized lap to salute the fans.
Mason McCarty gave the Blades an early 1-0 lead.
    He said he loved how the fans in Prince Albert always came up to talk to him, ask how he was, ask how the team was doing and offer encouragement. He admitted he was going to miss those interactions saying the community is very close knit being in one of the league’s smaller markets.
    “Everyone in P.A. made P.A. everything to me,” said Vanstone. “I think that is how I can sum it up is absolutely that.
    “I am so grateful for the experience. I am going to be a Raider until I die that is for sure.”
    The Blades fell to 28-35-7-2 with the loss and missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year. The Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2) finished five points ahead of the Blades for eight overall in the WHL’s Eastern Conference and the conference’s second wildcard berth.
    After Saskatoon won what turned out to be an emotional final home game on Friday where they beat the Raiders 5-3 and were officially eliminated from playoffs, Blades head coach Dean Brockman said his side had a bit of an expected letdown on Saturday. He said the reality of the fact the season was over hadn’t totally hit him yet.
    “It will hit me when we go to work Monday, and we don’t have to practice,” said Brockman. “There are a lot of things to digest where we went right and where we went wrong.
Adam Kadlec sets to fire a shot on goal for the Raiders.
    “There will be evaluations with our guys, with our management group. Obviously, it is very disappointing we are not continuing our season. Through all the adversity I thought we made some strides this year.”
    Going forward, Brockman believes the Blades have a lot of bright lights in players like forward Michael Farren and Chase Wouters, who concluded their 16-year-old season, and centre Kirby Dach, who will officially enter his 16-year-old season in the upcoming campaign.
    Dach, who was selected by the Blades second overall in last year’s WHL Bantam Draft, finished out this season in Saskatoon as a call up from the midget AAA ranks until getting hurt in the team’s fifth last game of the season.
    “For not knowing a lot about Michael Farren, he did really well,” said Brockman. “I think maybe if there was anything he ran out of gas later in the year.
Parker Kelly celebrates the Raiders win.
    “(Chase Wouters) is just a character kid that works and works and works. Those guys are going to be big cornerstones.
    “Kirby is going to be a good player. You don’t want to put too much pressure on the young guy, but he has got a bright future that is for sure.”
    As for the present on Saturday, the night belonged to the Raiders, and Vanstone was pleased to relish one last memory with the fans from “Hockey Town North.”
    “You can’t teach loyalty, and this city is all about it,” he said.

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