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.

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