Sunday, 14 April 2019

Hannoun’s hatty pushes Raiders past Blades into WHL Eastern Conference final

Dante Hannoun (#17) celebrates his hat trick goal.
    He had a hat trick and a marriage proposal from the stands.
    You could say overage centre Dante Hannoun experienced an eventful Sunday night.
    The Delta, B.C., product scored three times and was a plus-three in the plus-minus department helping his Prince Albert Raiders down the host Saskatoon Blades 6-3 in Game 6 of a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    Throughout the contest, one Raiders fan among the 10,521 spectators, which the biggest gathering for a Blades home game in the regular season and playoffs, kept flashing a sign that said, “Marry me Hannoun.”
    When asked about the sign and if he will accept, Hannoun let out a big laugh.
    “I don’t know,” said Hannoun, while smiling and chuckling. “I’m not sure. I don’t know who it is.”
Dante Hannoun has scored nine goals in this year’s WHL playoffs.
  On the serious side, Hannoun was pumped to be able to help his team with a hat trick performance.
    “Obviously, it was pretty special,” said Hannoun, who has nine goals in this year’s WHL playoffs. “You have to give it to them.
    “They battled hard.”
    Thanks to Hannoun’s heroics, the Raiders took the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Blades 4-2. Prince Albert advances to the WHL Eastern Championship series for the first time since 2005, when they fell in a seven-game decision to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
    The Raiders will face the Edmonton Oil Kings in this year’s best-of-seven Eastern Conference final. The Oil Kings topped the Central Division and finished fifth overall in the WHL with a 42-18-4-4 record.
This Raiders fan really likes overage centre Dante Hannoun.
    Game 1 of that series is set for this coming Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre in Prince Albert.
    Following the Sunday’s win over the Blades, Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid reflected on how far his club has come with a main core group that has been together since the start of the 2016-17 campaign. In 2016-17, the Raiders finished with the third worst regular season record in the WHL at 21-44-5-2.
    This season, the Raiders have been backed solidly by “Hockey Town North” pretty much for the whole campaign as they finished first overall in the WHL with a 54-10-2-2 record in the regular season and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
Noah Gregor had a pair of assists for the Raiders.
    Now the Raiders will play for a conference title.
    “I’m really happy for, you know, the city and the organization, but mostly those kids over there,” said Habscheid. “I told them after I said you know what, when we lost we lost with class and when we win we plan on winning with class too.
    “I can remember a couple of years ago a lot of teams kicked sand in those kids’ faces. They taunted them and laughed at them and said the (Prince Albert midget AAA) Mintos were better than us. I just said to remember that.
    “We have a long ways to go yet. I’m happy for them, because if anyone deserves it, those players do to feel good about themselves and about the way they play and the way they conduct themselves. It is a class group of players who play hard, and I’m fortunate to coach them.”
    The Raiders and Blades were meeting for the 14th time including action in the regular season and playoffs.
Ryan Hughes had a pair of goals for the Saskatoon Blades.
    The teams traded goals in the opening frame, which saw the Raiders hold a huge edge in territorial play.
    Shortly past the midway point of the first, the Raiders jumped in front 1-0, when power forward Parker Kelly wired home a shot from the right wing boards to the top left corner of the Saskatoon goal.
    The Blades pulled even at 1-1 with a power –play goal from speedy forward Ryan Hughes with 4:15 remaining in the opening frame.
    Prince Albert jumped out to a 3-1 lead to start the second. At the 5:08 mark of the frame, a shot by Raiders overage star centre Noah Gregor rang the post and squirted out to an open right side of the Saskatoon goal.
The Blades faithful cheers a goal from Ryan Hughes.
    Hannoun popped the rebound home with a backhander to give the Raiders a one-goal edge.
    At the 8:18 mark of the second, the Raiders struck on the power play to go up by two. Star right-winger Brett Leason had the puck in the left slot and fed a perfect backdoor pass to import winger Aliaksei Protas, who popped home his fourth of the post-season.
    With the Raiders still having a big edge in territorial play, the Blades stopped the bleeding with 4:36 remaining in the second frame. Working on the power play, Hughes wired home his second tally of the game through a screen to cut the Raiders lead to 3-2.
Sean Montgomery scored in the third period for the Raiders.
    The Raiders seemly put the game away scoring twice in the first 5:27 of the third. At the 3:33 mark, Hannoun netted his second of the contest to put the Raiders up 4-2.
    Working on the power-play, overage centre Sean Montgomery wired in a shot from close in by the left side of the Blades goal to give the visitors a 5-2 edge at the 5:27 mark of the frame.
    Raiders captain Brayden Pachal said it was big for his team to get that two-goal surge to start the third.
    “They were coming on quick,” said Pachal. “They are a great team.
    “They weren’t going to just quit. You have to give a lot of credit to them over there.
    “That was an amazing series. I think we enjoyed it, they enjoyed it and the fans enjoyed it.”
The Raiders faithful cheers one of their team’s goals.
    Even down 5-2, the Blades didn’t quit.
    Saskatoon provided a scare just 29 seconds after Montgomery’s goal. Blade centre Tristen Robins tipped home a pass from defenceman Nolan Kneen between the legs of Raiders star netminder Ian Scott to cut the Raiders lead to 5-3.
    The Blades couldn’t get any closer, and Hannoun completed his hat trick scoring into an empty net with 1.3 seconds remaining in the third.
    “It is a tough way to end there, but I am really proud of our group,” said Blades overage defenceman Dawson Davidson, who had an assist on Sunday. “We gave that team everything we had.
Tristen Robins scored in the third period for the Blades.
    “That is a good team over there that we were playing. They’ve been good all year. I think we pushed them to the brink.
    “Like I said, it was not the result we wanted, but we’re not hanging our heads. We made a lot of strides as an organization this year. Hopefully, that helps moving forward.”
    Nolan Maier made 26 saves to take the setback in goal for the Blades. Scott turned away 19 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Raiders.
    Gregor and Leason both had a pair of assists in the win for the Raiders. Between Brett and his father Darryl, who was the starting quarterback of the Regina Rams football team in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Leason family is 9-2 against Saskatoon based squads in the post-season.
Brett Leason had a pair of assists for the Raiders.
    The Blades had breakout season that saw them finish fourth overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record and earn honourable mention status in the final CHL Top 10 rankings. That ended a string of missing the post-season for five consecutive campaigns.
    Saskatoon swept the Moose Jaw Warriors 4-0 in a best-of-seven first round series. The Blades had their series tied with the Raiders at 2-2 after four games.
    The Raiders closed the series out with a 6-1 win in Game 5 on Friday in Prince Albert and Sunday’s 6-3 victory in Saskatoon.
    “I didn’t like our last two hockey games,” said Blades head coach Mitch Love. “We came up short to a very good hockey team over there.
The Raiders celebrate advancing to the WHL Eastern Conference final.
    “The initial reaction is disappointment. At the end of the day, that is a good hockey team over there. They were built that way.
    “We are going to have to lick our wounds a little bit, but also, I am extremely proud of our guys and the season they had.”
    Between action in the regular season and playoffs, the Raiders won 10 of the 14 head-to-head encounters with the Blades. While the Raiders will be turning their focus towards the Oil Kings, Kelly wanted to pass on a nod of respect to his team’s archrivals in Saskatoon.
The Blades give a final salute to their fans.
    “I think this series and our (regular) season series, actually, I think we really ignited that rivalry again back to one of the top in the league,” said Kelly. “It is so fun to play in.
    “This rink has 10-K in it, and it is so fun to play in. It is loud and noisy. You know their fans are pretty good too.
    “It is a lot of fun coming up these next couple of years. The rivalry will be great.”
    NOTES – The Blades scratched backup goalie Dorrin Luding (injury), winger Zach Huber, defenceman Majid Kaddoura and associate player call-ups in forward Colton Dach and defenceman Alex Ozar. Utility player Randen Schmidt made his third appearance of the post-season for Saskatoon.
The Raiders and Blades start their post-series handshakes.
    The Raiders scratched star left-winger Cole Fonstad for a second straight game with an undisclosed injury. Physical forward Justin Nachbaur sat out the first of a two-game league imposed suspension for receiving an interference major penalty and a game misconduct in the Raiders Game 5 win over the Blades on Friday. Cole Nagy, who is a forward that finished playing his 17-year-old midget AAA season with the Saskatoon Blazers, dressed as an associate player call up.

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