Monday, 29 April 2019

Eastern Conference final turned in Game 4 when Raiders got their wheels going

The Raiders celebrate Noah Gregor’s goal in Game 4 versus Edmonton.
    Once the Prince Albert Raiders got over their Saskatoon Blades hangover, it spelled doom for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
    On Sunday, the Prince Albert Raiders won their first WHL Eastern Conference title since 1985, when they downed the Oil Kings in Edmonton 4-2 in Game 6 of the conference championship series. Prince Albert claimed the best-of-seven series 4-2.
    The turning point of the series came in Game 4 in Edmonton last Wednesday. Going into that contest, the Oil Kings had won two straight games to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
    The previous night at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Raiders were coming off arguably one of their worst performances of the season falling 5-1.
    In Game 4, the Raiders got their wheels going and started to play like themselves for the first time in the series. Star right-winger Brett Leason scored in the second period and star overage centre Noah Gregor tallied early in the third to give the Raiders a 2-0 advantage.
    Oil Kings defenceman Wyatt McLeod scored with 6:06 remaining in the third to cut the Raiders lead to 2-1, but Edmonton couldn’t get any closer. The Raiders got 25 saves from star goalie Ian Scott to pull out a 2-1 victory.
    Dylan Myskiw turned away 25 shots to take the setback in goal for the Oil Kings.
Brett Leason had a big goal for the Raiders in Game 4.
    With the win, the Raiders tied the series up at 2-2. From that point forward, they looked like a club that topped the WHL overall standings with a 54-10-2-2 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    The Raiders took Game 5 of the series 4-0 at home before a raucous sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 Art Hauser Centre last Friday before clinching the series on Sunday.
    The Raiders played with tonnes of jump and had a physical edge to their game. Power forward Parker Kelly closed out the series throwing a number of big hits for Prince Albert.
    During the first three games of the series, the Raiders seemed to be suffering a hangover after taking a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against their archrivals the Saskatoon Blades 4-2. It seemed like it was hard for the Raiders to get up for the Oil Kings.
    Even the fans seemed to suffering from a Blades hangover at the stars. When I visited with a number of Raiders fans during Games 1 and 2 of the Oil Kings series at the Art Hauser Centre, they said it felt like a disappointment when the Blades series ended.
    They even seemed to be a little off when it came to being engaged with the first two games against Edmonton. With that in mind, the Raiders 1-0 victory in Game 1 of the conference final seemed like a feeling out contest for the hosts and the visiting Oil Kings.
    After the Raiders evened up the series at 2-2 in Game 4, the Prince Albert fans were equal to the Raiders players for being on their game in a Game 5 romp in “Hockey Town North.”
Noah Gregor was clutch for the Raiders in Game 4.
    Had the Oil Kings found a way to gut out another couple of goals to take Game 4, the series potentially could have had a different ending despite the fact the Raiders played well.
    Edmonton was a tough challenge having finished first in the Central Division and fifth overall in the WHL standings with a 42-18-4-4 record. The Oil Kings were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    Kudos to head coach Marc Habscheid and the Raiders coaching staff by just letting their players watch the video of the Game 3 loss and then discuss their thoughts before Game 4. The Raiders have a tight bunch and the visuals from Game 3 made them realize they didn’t want to go down playing like that.
    Now, the Raiders are back in top gear heading into the WHL Championship series against the Vancouver Giants. Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.

Meet the Giants

Bowan Byram is a Giants star defenceman.
    The Prince Albert Raiders will be in for a tough challenge in the WHL Championship series against the Vancouver Giants.
    The series is a tough one to predict as the two side met just once in the regular season due to playing in separate conferences. On Jan. 24, the Giants downed the Raiders 3-1 at the Langley Events Centre in Langley, B.C.
    Davis Koch scored twice for the Giants in that contest including an empty-net goal, while Brayden Watts had a single. Captain Brayden Pachal replied for the Raiders in that contest.
    Trent Miner made 31 stops to pick up the win in goal for the Giants. Ian Scott turned away 25-of-27 shots to take the setback in goal for the Raiders.
    The Raiders followers will likely not know a whole lot about the Giants due to the fact they make an appearance in Prince Albert once every second season. With that in mind, here are some basics about the Giants.
    The Giants finished second overall in the WHL’s regular season standings at 48-15-3-2 and were rated sixth in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    Barclay Parneta is the Giants first year general manager, and he has a lengthy career in hockey scouting in the WHL and NHL.
    Michael Dyck is in his first year as the head coach of the Giants. He guided the Lethbridge Hurricanes as head coach for four seasons from 2005 to 2009 and led the Hurrcanes to an appearance in the WHL final in 2008.
    Dyck has coached hockey at various levels in high level capacities, and he is a very talented bench boss.
    Koch is a star overage right-winger for the Giants, and he led his team in regular season scoring with 28 goals and 50 assists for 78 points to go with a plus-16 rating in the plus-minus department. He has two goals and 15 assists in the Giants 15 post-season games.
    Milos Roman is a star Slovakian import centre who posted 27 goals 33 assists and a plus-19 rating in 59 regular season games.
Dylan Plouffe is a steady defenceman for the Giants.
    Saskatoon product Dawson Holt is skating through his 19-year-old season with the Giants. He had six goals and 13 assists in 53 regular season games. He has five goals and seven assists in the Giants 15 playoff games.
    Sophomore offensive defenceman Bowen Byram has had a breakout season. The skilled 17-year-old finished second in Giants team scoring in the regular season with 26 goals and 45 assists for 71 points to go with a plus-33 rating.
    Byram tops the Giants in post-season scoring with seven goals and 11 assists in the club’s 15 games. He has a plus-10 rating as well. He is a hot prospect for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft earning the number two ranking among North American skaters in the final NHL Central Scouting rankings.
    The Giants added 18-year-old defenceman Seth Bafaro in a trade with the Saskatoon Blades partway through the season. In 55 regular season games between the Blades and Giants, Bafaro has six goals, six assists and a plus-nine rating.
    Dylan Plouffe is another steady rearguard. He posted eight goals, 27 assists and a plus-10 rating in 63 regular season games. Plouffe has four goals, nine assists and a plus-three rating in the Giants 15 playoff games.
    David Tendeck has emerged as the Giants go-to guy in goal during the post-season. The NHL Draft selection of the Arizona Coyotes appeared in 38 regular season games posting a 24-10-3 record, a 2.48 goals against average, a .911 save percentage and four shutouts.
    In 10 playoff appearances, Tendeck has posted an 8-2 record, a 2.14 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
    The Giants will pose a significant challenge to the Raiders.

Two hot points made Lauer fine big

Officials in Game 5 were targeted by Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer.
    When Edmonton Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer went off on the officials following his team’s Game 5 loss in the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series to the Raiders in Prince Albert, two spots made his fine a steep one.
    After the Oil Kings dropped a 4-0 decision to the Raiders in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final last Friday, Lauer expressed his displeasure with the officials. Lauer was upset the Raiders were awarded three power plays in that contest, while his squad didn’t have any power-play chances.
    For the majority of his post-game scrum with reporters following the game, Lauer went off on the officials. The next day, he was fined $1,500 by the WHL office.
    One of the reasons for the steep fine was the following comment.
    “I’m not saying we didn’t deserve penalties,” said Lauer. “I’m not saying that.
    “The calls they called on us there were infractions going against us the same way, and they didn’t get called. To me, that is a choice.”
    When Lauer said that line, he was claiming the officials on the ice made a choice to not call penalties on the Raiders in order to hurt the Oil Kings. That struck at the integrity of referees Brett Iverson and Mark Pearce along with linesmen Sean Dufour and Deion Foster.
    As a result, the fine was going to be a big one.
    The other part that cost Lauer was this comment.
    “The head officials were here, there should be an evaluation there too,” said Lauer. “For me, it is unacceptable to be in the third round to have zero power plays.”
    For me, that was the first time I’ve ever heard a goal go after the officials supervisors that were at the game. WHL officiating development coach Tom Kowal and officiating supervisor Tim Tisdale were present for Game 5.
    Lauer’s comment here likely caused a bigger fine.
    It should be noted Lauer doesn’t usually criticize the officials. He is a really good interview and very accommodating.
    For my two cents, I was good with the job the officials did in Game 5 of that series, and I didn’t think the work of the officials had an effect on the Raiders winning that series against the Oil Kings.
    There was only one mess up in Game 2, when a late first period goal by Oil Kings overage centre Andrew Fyten should have been waved off due to incidental contact on the goaltender. Edmonton won that contest 4-3 in overtime.
    Still, it took looking at various replays and still photos to come to that conclusion on that play.

Gavlas earns shot to be overager next season

Parker Gavlas had a good season with the Oil Kings.
    Parker Gavlas made good on what had to be one of his last shots to turn heads and stay on a few hockey radars.
    The 19-year-old defenceman entered this past season with very limited experience on the WHL front. The Saskatoon product suited up for eight regular season games and three post-season contests in 2017-18 with the Regina Pats, who were hosting that season’s Memorial Cup.
    Gavlas, who stands 6-feet and weighs 184 pounds, spent most of the 2017-18 campaign in the junior A ranks appearing in 35 regular season games with the Yorkton Terriers recording one goal and 11 assists.
    He made the Pats as a 19-year-old rookie this season, but the Pats, who are in the midst of a major rebuild, were doing whatever they could to round out a roster.
    Gavlas appeared in 12 regular season games with the Pats collecting an assist and posting a minus-three rating in the plus-minus department.
    Last Nov. 9, Gavlas was traded to the Edmonton Oil Kings in exchange for an eighth round pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft.
    In Edmonton, Gavlas took off. In 46 regular season games with the Oil Kings, Gavlas posted one goal and nine assists to go with a plus-15 rating.
Parker Gavlas became a solid defensive defenceman for the Oil Kings.
    He followed up his regular season with a solid post-season. Appearing in all of the Oil Kings 16 post-season games, Gavlas recorded one goal, three assists and a plus-nine rating.
    Gavlas became a solid defensive defenceman who played big shutdown minutes. He was a regular on Edmonton’s penalty killing unit as well.
    He brought a physical edge too. In the Oil Kings six game WHL Eastern Conference final loss to the Prince Albert Raiders, Gavlas often mixed it up with Raiders power forward Parker Kelly.
    Over the course of the season, Gavlas went from roster throw in to a sound roster regular. He did enough to be seriously considered for one of the league’s 66 overage spots next season.
    Edmonton could potentially return six players from their current roster to compete for the team’s three overage spots next season. He could return for a second season with the Oil Kings.
    It will be interesting to see where he lands when the annual overage shuffle gets underway.

Raiders sweep WHL player of the week awards

Aliaksei Protas, left, was all smiles after a memorable week.
    The Prince Albert Raiders took home both of the WHL’s player of the week awards for this past week.
    Import Belarusian left-winger Aliaksei Protas was named the player of the week for the week of April 22 to Sunday.
    Protas earned the honours with two big games. On Friday, he had his first career WHL hat trick and an assist to power the Raiders to a 4-0 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 5 of the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    In Game 6 on Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Protas had a hat trick in the Raiders 4-2 series clinching victory over the Oil Kings.
    Over the Raiders 16 post-season games to date, the “Viper” from Vitebsk leads the WHL with 11 goals, while adding four assists and posting a plus-11 rating.
Ian Scott was the goaltender of the week for the WHL.
    In 61 regular season games, Protas, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 192 pounds, posted 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points while adding a plus-24 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Raiders star netminder Ian Scott was named the WHL’s goaltender of the week for the week running from April 22 to Sunday. During that span of time, Scott appeared in four games recording a 3-1 record, a 2.00 goals against average, a .935 save percentage stopping 115 of 123 shots fired his way and one shutout.
    In 49 regular season appearances with the Raiders, Scott posted a 38-8-3 record, a 1.83 goals against average, a .932 save percentage and eight shutouts.
    Over the Raiders 16 post-season games, Scott has recorded a 12-4 record, a 1.85 goals against average, a .930 save percentage and three shutouts.
    Scott has a signed NHL entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Early season Raiders column popular

Parker Kelly salutes the fans at the Art Hauser Centre.
    A column I wrote early this season on the Prince Albert Raiders seems to be the gift that keeps on giving.
    Back on October 5, 2018, I wrote a column titled “As always – The song in Prince Albert is “Go Raiders Go.””
    The piece was typed out that night after the Raiders had downed the Hurricanes in Lethbridge 5-1 to improve to 7-0. The column touched on a thought that this could turn out to be a special season for the Raiders.
    I wrote that the Raiders fans should embrace this team and the team should embrace the fans, because the memories that could be made.
    For the rest of the regular season, the Raiders were in standing room territory on most nights averaging 2,615 spectators per game at the 2,580 Art Hauser Centre for 34 home dates. In the playoffs, the Raiders are averaging 3,247 spectators over eight home games.
    The Raiders topped the overall WHL standings with a 54-10-4-4 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
Raiders fans enjoy a fun moment at the Art Hauser Centre.
    They will face the Vancouver Giants in the best-of-seven WHL Championships series with Game 1 slated for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Over the course of the season, I’ve had a number of Raiders fans come up to me and tell me they loved that column. They said it got them pumped up for the season and motivated early on to head to the rink.
    If the piece helped a few Raiders fan to soak in what has been a special campaign for pretty much the whole season, I am happy about that. I hope the fans embraced and have enjoyed every moment and will continue to enjoy the action that will hit the ice in May.
    If you want to check out that early season piece, you can do so by clicking right here.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Sunday, 28 April 2019

Protas knows playoffs – Belarusian’s second straight hatty puts Raiders in WHL final

Aliaksei Protas fired home a hat trick for the Raiders on Sunday.
    Thanks to Aliaksei Protas, no one in Prince Albert might show up for work on Monday morning.
    The “Viper” from Vitebsk fired home his second straight post-season hat trick on Sunday lifting the Prince Albert Raiders to a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 6 of the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series.
    With the win before 7,735 spectators at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Raiders locked up the best-of-seven set 4-2. They win their first WHL Eastern Conference title and advance to the WHL Championship series for the first time since 1985.
    In the process, they likely sparked parties all across Prince Albert. At midnight on Sunday, citizens in “Hockey Town North” will be gathering at the Art Hauser Centre to welcome the Raiders home.
    The party in P.A. is likely to run into the early hours of the morning.
Aliaksei Protas has seven points in his last two games.
    During this playoff run, Protas, who is an import rookie left-winger from Belarus, has come into his own, especially in the Raiders last two games.
    In 61 regular season games, Protas, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 192 pounds, posted 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points while adding a plus-24 rating in the plus-minus department.
    In the Raiders 16 post-season games to date, Protas leads the WHL with 11 goals, while adding four assists and posting a plus-11 rating.
    Over his last two outings, Protas has recorded six goals, one assist and a plus-four rating. He had three goals and an assist in the Raiders 4-0 victory in Game 5 over the Oil Kings on Friday in Prince Albert.
Noah Gregor had a goal for the Raiders on Sunday.
    The Oil Kings still put up a fight on Sunday showing why they topped the WHL’s Central Division and finished fifth overall in the league with a 42-18-4-4 record and were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    They opened scoring at the 11:49 mark of the first period, when captain Trey Fix-Wolansky fired home a shot from the point. The 1-0 lead for the Oil Kings didn’t last long.
    Just 2:16 later, Protas sniped home a power-play goal from the right slot to even things up at 1-1.
Protas scored his second of the game to give the Raiders a 2-1 lead on a gaff by the Oil Kings.
    Edmonton centre Josh Williams tried to pass the puck across the front of his goal to teammate Conner McDonald, but Protas deflected the pass attempt past Oil Kings netminder Dylan Myskiw for the go-ahead goal.
    Just 3:11 after that tally, the Raiders went ahead 3-1 scoring another power-play goal with this one coming from overage centre Noah Gregor. Gregor got the puck in the right slot and wired a shot to the top right corner of the Edmonton goal.
Trey Fix-Wolansky had a pair of goals for the Oil Kings on Sunday.
    At the 10:41 mark of the second, the Oil Kings cut the gap to 3-2 on a short-handed goal from Fix-Wolansky.
    After nailing Raiders rookie defenceman Kaiden Guhle in the left corner of the Prince Albert zone, Fix-Wolansky skated to the front of the Raiders net and received a pass from linemate Quinn Benjafield.
    Holding the puck all alone to the right side of the Prince Albert goal, Fix Wolansky slid home a low shot past Raiders star netminder Ian Scott.
    Protas restored order with 3:20 remaining in the second. Raiders star right-winger Brett Leason made a diving stab pass that sprung Protas on a breakaway.
Josh Williams had an unfortunate gaff for the Oil Kings.
    The Belarusian proceeded to snipe his hat trick goal to the low left corner of the Edmonton net to give the Raiders a 4-2 advantage.
    Edmonton tried to mount a comeback in the third period opening the frame with three straight power plays and holding a 14-3 edge in shots on goal in the stanza.
    Fix-Wolansky wired a shot off the post, but that was as close as the host side came to scoring.
    Scott slammed the door and made 32 saves in the contest to pick up the win in goal for the Raiders.
Myskiw turned away 20 shots to take the setback in goal for the Oil Kings.
    The series win allows the Raiders to continue what has been a magical season for the franchise that has been backed by a passionate fanbase that has filled the Art Hauser Centre on a nightly basis and followed the team on the road.
Ian Scott made 32 saves in goal for the Raiders on Sunday.
    The Raiders topped the overall WHL standings for the first time since 1985 posting a 54-10-2-2 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    When the Raiders appeared in the WHL final in 1985, they swept away the Kamloops Blazers 4-0 in a best-of-seven series and moved on to win the Memorial Cup.
    In the best-of-seven WHL final, the Raiders will face their biggest test to date in the Vancouver Giants.
    The Giants finished second overall in the WHL with a 48-15-3-2 record and were rated sixth in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. The Giants took the Western Conference Championship series 4-1 over the Spokane Chiefs.
    The Raiders and Giants met just once in the regular season back on Jan. 24. The Giants posted a 3-1 victory in that encounter in Langley, B.C.
Brett Leason had a gutty assist for the Raiders on Sunday.
    Vancouver last played in the WHL Championship series in 2007, when they fell in a hotly contest seven game series to the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Giants hosted that year’s Memorial Cup tournament and downed the Tigers in the event’s title game 3-1.
    Vancouver won the WHL title in 2006 sweeping the Moose Jaw Warriors away in four games.
Game 1 of this year’s WHL Championship series is set for this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    The Raiders and their fans are looking forward to adding another chapter to their storybook season, but for now, they are savouring this moment in time. A conference title win doesn’t happen every day, and for the Raiders, they have only gotten to this point twice since they entered the WHL at the start of the 1982-83 campaign.
    It is a moment that should be enjoyed.

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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Shirley, Leschyshyn, Fiala era comes to an end for Stars

The Saskatoon Stars have produced many memorable moments like this.
    It is one of those times when you are stuck in denial.
    After the Saskatoon Stars fell 3-2 after a tiebreaking shootout to the Ontario-based Stoney Creek Sabres in the bronze medal game of the Esso Cup female midget AAA national championship tournament, it hits you that the Stars season is done.
    The conclusion of that contest held at the Gerry McCrory Countryside Sports Complex in Sudbury, Ont., brings forward another reality.
    Grace Shirley, Anna Leschyshyn and Joelle Fiala will never skate for the Stars again.
    When August comes, they will be departing for the United States to play for women’s hockey teams in the NCAA ranks. Shirley will join the University of Wisconsin Badgers, Leschyshyn will suit up for the Syracuse University Orange and Fiala will play for the Robert Morris University Colonials.
Grace Shirley, right, at the Stars 2015 SFMAAAHL title win.
    All three joined the Stars on a full-time basis as 14-year-old underage rookies in the 2015-16 campaign and quickly shot up to the status of star status.
    That trio were the constants in the Stars last three appearances at Esso Cup including last year and in 2016. This season, Shirley was the Stars captain, while Leschyshyn and Joelle Fiala served as assistant captains along with offensive defender Ashley Messier, who turned 17-years-old in late March.
    Shirley and Leschyshyn each played a handful of games for the Stars as associate player call ups in 2014-15.
    Leschyshyn was on the ice the night the Stars won their first Saskatchewan Female Midget AAA Hockey League title on March 25, 2015. She picked up an assist in the Stars 2-0 victory over the Prince Albert Northern Bears that clinched the SFMAAAHL championship series.
    The Stars took Shirley to that year’s Esso Cup tournament in Red Deer, Alta., and she dressed for all seven of Saskatoon’s games.
Captain Grace Shirley in action for the Stars this season.
    Shirley is the only player to hit the ice for all 28 games the Stars have played at Esso Cup posting 16 goals and six assists for 22 points.
    They are linked extremely tight to the identity of the team. To think they will no longer be in the Stars lineup next season seems difficult to fathom.
    When the Stars returned to the Esso Cup for the fourth time in the last five years, hopes were high that this would be there year. They would make the one or two plays they hadn’t made in past years and one or two breaks would go their way allowing Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala to graduate as national champions.
Anna Leschyshyn in action for the Stars on March 25, 2015.
    Like the past three visits that didn’t turn out to be.
    Playing in one of the tournament’s tougher field of six teams, the Stars finished first in the preliminary round standings with a 4-1 record.
    To show how unpredictable the results could be, the preliminary round loss the Stars suffered was a 7-3 drubbing to the As de Quebec on Monday.
    Saskatoon followed that up with a pair of one-goal wins in regulation including a 3-2 victory over the Alberta-based St. Albert Slash on Tuesday and a 3-2 triumph over the host Sudbury Lady Wolves on Wednesday.
    On Thursday, Leschyshyn set Esso Cup single game records for goals (five) and points (eight) in the Stars 11-1 win over the Halifax Fire.
Anna Leschyshyn in action for the Stars this season.
    Leschyshyn took home the award as the tourament’s top scorer with six goals and seven assists for 13 points. Messier took home honours as the tournament’s top defender posting three assists in seven games.
    The Slash and Lady Wolves ultimately met in Saturday’s championship game, where the Slash won a third straight national title with a 4-1 victory.
    The Stars made the national “frozen four” like their three previous visits to the Esso Cup and like those previous visits more heartbreak ensued.
    On Friday, the Stars faced the Slash in one of two semifinal contests. Defender Dayle Ross scored for the Slash 30 seconds into the third period to break a scoreless deadlock.
Joelle Fiala (#27) celebrates scoring in the 2016 SFMAAAHL final.
    Shirley and Fiala combined to set up standout forward Kaitlin Jockims to score the equalizer for the Stars with 1:34 remaining in the third to force a 1-1 tie and overtime.
    Captain Madison Willan scored 2:46 into overtime to deliver a 2-1 victory to the Slash.
    Arden Kliewer made 26 saves to take the setback in goal for the Stars. Brianna Sank turned away 22 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Slash.
    Out of the four times the Stars had played in a national semifinal, they picked up one win and lost two games in extra time. In Saskatoon’s first visit to the Esso Cup in 2015, they dropped a 2-1 decision after a tiebreaking shootout to the host Red Deer Chiefs.
    In Saturday’s bronze medal game against the Sabres, the Stars took a 1-0 lead at the 2:57 mark of the second period, when Fiala and Jayda Sachs combined to set up Calli Arnold for her third goal of the tournament.
Joelle Fiala in action for the Stars this season.
    Just 48 seconds into the third, the Stars expanded their lead to 2-0, when Arnold set up Shirley for her seventh marker of the tourney.
    The Sabres rallied scoring twice to force a 2-2 tie and overtime with singles coming from Tessa Holk and Alicia Juras. Juras netted the equalizer with 4:30 remaining in the third, when the Sabres were short-handed.
    Saskatoon held a 24-7 edge in shots on goal through the third period and overtime.
    The Sabres took the tiebreaking shootout 4-1 scoring on all four of their chances. Jenna Duarte, Alicia Juras, Vanessa Upson and Alyssa Kawa all scored for the Sabres.
    Fiala tallied in the shootout for the Stars.
    Rookie Kaitlyn Cadrain turned away 19 shots in regulation and overtime in goal for the Stars. Megan Warrener stopped 37 shots in regulation and overtime in goal for the Sabres and two-of-three shooters in the shootout.
    The shootout at Esso Cup is conducted under international rules. 
Grace Tam played with heart in her final season for the Stars.
    The bronze medal clash provided another heartbreaker that didn’t go the Stars way at Esso Cup.
    The toughest aspect for the Stars to digest from their Esso Cup appearances is that they could have legitimately one the event two to three times. Out of their four appearances, they took home a bronze medal in 2015 and fell to the Slash 2-1 in last year’s title game.
    They still had a spectacular season in 2018-19 posting a 47-3-2-1 overall record that included winning the prestigious Mandi Schwartz Memorial Tournament, the SFMAAAHL title and the Western regional playdown series. Saskatoon posted its best ever record in regular season play at 27-1.
    Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala were generational greats the Stars may never replace.
    Shirley appeared in 107 career regular season games becoming the Stars all-time leader in goals (97) and points (166). She graduates as the third all-time leading scorer in the history of the SFMAAAHL.
Kaitlin Jockims concluded her time with the Stars as a hot scorer.
    Leschyshyn appeared in 115 career regular season games becoming the Stars third all-time leading scorer posting 72 goals and 80 assists for 152 points. She graduates as the fifth all-time leading scorer in the history of the SFMAAAHL.
    Fiala appeared in 112 career regular season games becoming the all-time leader in assists at 83. She had 47 goals and 130 points to become the team’s fourth all-time leading scorer and the eighth all-time leading scorer in the history of the SFMAAAHL.
    At the moment, no one is near cracking 100 points in SFMAAAHL career regular season play, so Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala will likely remain high on the all-time scoring list for some time.
Abby DeCorby was solid on defence for the Stars.
    All total, the Stars will graduate seven players this year as Jockims, Sachs and defender Grace Tam and Abby DeCorby have all exhausted their midget AAA eligibility along with Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala.
    A year ago, the Stars graduated Mackenna Parker, who is the SFMAAAHL’s third all-time leading scorer, Kianna Dietz, Jordyn Holmes, Jordyn Gerlitz, Jordan Ivanco and Dana Wood. In 2017, the graduates included Julia Rongve, Abby Shirley and Willow Slobodzian.
    The bulk of the players who were responsible for the Stars run over success over the past five seasons under head coach Greg Slobodzian are gone.
    The returning players and future additions will create their own identity with the team.
    Will they match the accomplishments the team posted over the last five seasons? That in all reality is too much to ask.
Jayda Sachs picked up points during important moments for the Stars.
    In NHL terms, how often have the Edmonton Oilers matched what their club accomplished with a roster of generational players in the 1980s following their last Stanley Cup win in 1990?
    Of course, they have never duplicated the run they had in their heydays in the 1980s.
    The era of Shirley, Leschyshyn and Fiala marked a unique time in the history of the Stars that contained lots of good times. It is too much to ask for a run like they’ve had to happen again.
    Their time with the team was truly something to behold.

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Saturday, 27 April 2019

Raiders win away from WHL final, Oil Kings look to force seventh heaven

Raiders RW Brett Leason, left, knocks down Oil Kings D Conner McDonald.
    The Prince Albert Raiders are on the verge of returning to a place they last visited in 1985.
    The Edmonton Oil Kings are trying to stave off elimination for the first time in 2019 WHL playoffs.
    The stakes are as high as they have ever been this season for both clubs when they meet in Game 6 of the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series on Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton at 2 p.m. local time.
    The Raiders lead the conference final 3-2. If they win on Sunday, they will advance to the WHL Championship series for the first time since 1985, when they won the league crown and advanced on to capture the Memorial Cup.
Parker Kelly cranked up his physical game for the Raiders.
    If the Oil Kings prevail on Sunday, they will force a series deciding Game 7 back in Prince Albert on Tuesday. Edmonton is hoping to close out the series with two straight wins in order to return to the league final for the first time since 2014.
    That year, the Oil King won the league title and moved on to win the Memorial Cup.
    In winning the last two games of the series, the Raiders looked more like the club that finished first overall in the WHL’s regular season standings posting a 54-10-2-2 record to get rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said his squad still has work to do to lock up the series, but he believes his players are hitting their stride once again.
    “We adjusted a few different things a couple of games ago,” said Habscheid. “I think the guys’ energy has really been the difference.
    “We’re just hounding. I think our speed is back. I think earlier in the series they (the Oil Kings) really didn’t see our speed, and now they are seeing it.”
Matthew Robertson (#22) wasn’t happy with the play of his Oil Kings.
    The Oil Kings are trying to rediscover their form that allowed them to top the Central Division and finished fifth overall in the WHL standings with a 42-18-4-4 mark. They were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    While they dropped a 4-0 decision to the Raiders in Game 5 on Friday in Prince Albert, Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer said his team needs to play better, but he will also remind his players they had moments where they played well on Friday.
    “This wasn’t the result we wanted,” said Lauer. “I really liked our first period.
Tensions have increased between the Oil Kings and Raiders.
    “They got a couple of good bounces, a power-play goal and then one that snuck through. I liked our game in the first period. The last two periods P.A. played well.”
    The Raiders set the tone delivering a number of big hits in Friday’s win. Power forward Parker Kelly made about five to six big hits, and he said he needs to keep up his physical play.
    “Obviously, that is something I need to be doing every game,” said Kelly. “That kind of helps me get engaged, and I think helps create chances for my linemates and myself.”
    Habscheid was pleased with the effort Kelly brought in Game 5 and thought it was unfortunate Kelly missed an open net on a third period scoring chance.
    “He was flying around,” said Habscheid. “He just couldn’t hit the open net that is all on that one.
Brett Leason, left, gets set to deke around an Oil Kings defenceman.
    “Poor guy, I felt bad for him, because that was probably his best game of the playoffs. He played great. It would have been nice for him to get a little reward on that goal.
    “He really led that physical nature for us. He is tough to play against, a heart and soul guy. He was real important early on.”
    The Oil Kings were in a state of dismay when came to reflecting on how they played in dropping Game 5.
    “We just need to come out way better than we did,” said defenceman Matthew Robertson. “It was embarrassing what we did.
Dylan Myskiw has been solid in goal for the Oil Kings.
    “We just need come out and worry about what we can control. We need to play better.”
    Oil Kings offensive defenceman Conner McDonald said his team had too many self-inflicted wounds on Friday with turnovers and bad breakouts. McDonald said his club will be looking for redemption at home in Game 6.
    “Our backs are up against the wall now,” said McDonald. “Our true colours are going to come out.
    “We have to be ready, and I think we will be.”
    Still, the Raiders will do whatever they can to avoid having to play a winner take all Game 7 back in Prince Albert. Raiders star right-winger Brett Leason likes his team’s chance of advancing, if they can duplicate Friday’s effort on Sunday.
Ian Scott’s focus has been sharp in goal for the Raiders.
    “I know we put together a great performance,” said Leason. “I know we had everybody going from top to bottom.
    “This is just a good example of what we can do when everybody is going. It feels great to get the win and refocus quick. We will get focused on Sunday.”
    The winner of Eastern Conference final will face the Vancouver Giants in the WHL Championship series.
    On Friday before 4,886 spectators at the Langley Events Centre in Langley, B.C., the Giants slipped past the Spokane Chiefs 3-2 in Game 5 of the WHL Western Conference Championship series. With the win, the Giants took the best-of-seven set 4-1.
Jake Neighbours will try to make more noise for the Oil Kings.
    Bowen Byram, Justin Sourdif and Brayden Watts netted singles for the Giants. Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Ethan McIndoe replied for the Chiefs.
    David Tendeck stopped 27 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Giants. Bailey Brkin turned away 29 shots to take the setback in goal for the Chiefs.
    The Giants finished second overall in the WHL’s regular season standings at 48-15-3-2 and were rated sixth in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. The Chiefs finished eighth overall with a 40-21-2-5 mark.
    Vancouver last made the WHL final in 2007 falling in a series deciding seventh game to the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Giants hosted that year’s Memorial Cup tournament and downed the Tigers in the Memorial Cup title game 3-1.
    NOTE – Lauer was fined $1,500 by the WHL office Saturday for his post-game comments to the media following his team’s 4-0 loss in Game 5 in Prince Albert. 
The Raiders hope to celebrate a few goals in Edmonton on Sunday.
    The bench boss criticized the officials and their supervisors in his comments.

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Friday, 26 April 2019

Belarusian beauty – Protas’s hatty helps Raiders hammer Oil Kings 4-0

Aliaksei Protas (#21) smiles after scoring a first period power-play goal.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – On the ice, Aliaksei Protas had a smile that was a mile wide.
    On Friday, the Belarusian import rookie left-winger had the most memorable night of his short WHL career. Protas, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 192 pounds, posted his first career hat trick in the major junior ranks and added an assist powering his Prince Albert Raiders to a 4-0 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings.
    The win in Game 5 of the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series set off a party atmosphere among the sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre.
Aliaksei Protas had his first career WHL hat trick on Friday.
    With the win, the Raiders take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven set. They can close things out and win the conference title for the first time since 1985 in Game 6 on Sunday at Rogers Place in Edmonton with a 2 p.m. local time start.
    “I was so happy,” said Protas. “It was unforgettable for me.
    “I was so happy, same for the boys and same for the fans. It was just the biggest night for probably for my career.”
    Protas got the party started for the Raiders sniping a power-play goal from the right side boards in the Edmonton zone at the 11:31 mark of the opening frame.
    The “Viper” from Vitebsk struck again struck again with 2:57 remaining in the first period on a bit of a lucky shot. He was trying to pass the puck to linemate Brett Leason, and the puck found its way into the Edmonton goal putting the Raiders up 2-0.
Brett Leason had a big third period goal for the Raiders.
    Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid was pleased to see Protas have a big night.
    “He is an intelligent player,” said Habscheid. “He is just smart.
    “He is still finding his legs. He is still growing. His skating will come.
    “He is good with the puck. He has a great shot as you saw, so he compliments those two real well.”
    While the Raiders dominated play in the second frame, they weren’t able to increase their edge.
    They put the game away in the third. At the 5:22 mark of the third, Leason took a pass from Protas and jetted into the Edmonton zone down the right wing.
Brett Leason celebrates his third period goal.
    The Raiders star right-winger blew home his fifth goal of the post-season to give the host side a 3-0 advantage.
    Leason enjoyed benefiting from the fact his linemate had a good game.
    “He (Protas) is a good guy,” said Leason. “He doesn’t produce every night, but when he does, it is big for the team.
    “Today is a great example. He put the team on his back and put together a big performance to get us the win.”
    Protas completed his hat trick with 24.9 seconds remaining in the third to round out the 4-0 final.
    “It is a big night for everybody,” said Protas. “We just took the lead in the series, so everybody is all happy.
    “We just have to keep going, just play our game and just play physical and play fast.”
The Raiders faithful cheers one of their team’s goals.
    The Raiders brought their traditional physical play to Friday’s game too. The hits started early in the first period, when Raiders power forward Parker Kelly rocked Oil Kings defenceman Parker Gavlas in the Edmonton zone.
    Kelly threw about five or six big hits on Friday night, and thought the crowd reaction after the hits seemed louder than his collisions.
    “That first one there in the first period where I kind of came down the pipe and caught a guy that was pretty loud,” said Kelly. “I think that was the loudest I’ve heard the crowd after a hit for a while.
Dylan Myskiw made 26 saves for the Oil Kings on Friday.
    “It is so much fun, when you hear that from the crowd. I think that also kind of helps them get engaged early in the game too and kind of get them into it.”
    Defencemen Kaiden Guhle and Belarusian import Sergei Sapego each had two assists.
    Ian Scott made 24 saves to pick up the shutout win in goal for the Raiders. The shutout was the third one Scott has earned in the post-season.
    Dylan Myskiw turned away 26 shots in goal for the Oil Kings.
    Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer said his team needed to play better and gave credit to the Raiders for pulling out the win.
Parker Kelly (#27) threw a number of big hits for the Raiders.
    He believed his side got a raw deal from the officials. The Raiders had three power plays on Friday and scored on one of those chances, while the Oil Kings didn’t have a single power-play opportunity.
    “I’m not saying we didn’t deserve penalties,” said Lauer. “I’m not saying that.
    “The calls they called on us there were infractions going against us the same way, and they didn’t get called. To me, that is a choice.”
    Lauer said he expected he will likely get a $1,000 fine for going off on the officials in his post-game media scrum on Friday. He said he had to stand up for his players.
    “The head officials were here, there should be an evaluation there too,” said Lauer. “For me, it is unacceptable to be in the third round to have zero power plays.
Ian Scott made 24 saves to pick up the shutout win.
    “I don’t think we were that bad. We outshot them 13-10 in the first. They had a power play, and they got four shots on it.
    “Our five-on-five game was fine in the first period.”
    While he was critical of the officials, Lauer said he will still be telling his players their effort needs to be better on Sunday.
    “There is no doubt we have to be better as a team,” said Lauer. “I’m not letting our guys off the hook.
    “We will be better in Game 6. What happened tonight with the officials was wrong.”
    Prince Albert finished first overall in the WHL’s regular season posting a 54-10-2-2 record and was rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. As a result, the Raiders are pegged as favourites in the Eastern Conference final against Edmonton.
    The Oil Kings topped the Central Division and finished fifth overall in the WHL standings with a 42-18-4-4 mark, and they were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
The Raiders salute their fans following Friday’s win.
    So far in the series, the Oil Kings, who have a younger roster than the Raiders, have put up a big battle against the Prince Albert side.
    Habscheid said his squad is already looking forward to the next task at hand, which is trying to close out the series on Sunday.
    “We haven’t won anything yet,” said Habscheid. “They are a good team over there.
    “Now we have to go to their building for an afternoon game, so we’re not going to get too excited about this.”

    If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to stankssports@gmail.com.
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