Thursday, 18 April 2019

Series win over Blades readies Raiders for conference final

Prince Albert and Oil Kings set for Game 1 on Friday

The Raiders aim to give their fans more highs in their post-season journey.
     For head coach Marc Habscheid, adversity was good for the soul of his Prince Albert Raiders.
     Battling through adversity will help his team as it continues to march through the WHL playoffs. The Raiders are set to open the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference Championship series against the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    The Raiders are coming off downing their archrivals the Saskatoon Blades in six games in a WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    Before meeting the Blades, the Raiders were on an impressive march through the 2018-19 campaign.
Raiders fans have been packing and rocking the Art Hauser Centre.
    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. The Raiders swept the Red Deer Rebels 4-0 in a best-of-seven first round series to set up a meeting with the Blades.
    Against the Blades, the Raiders won the first two games at home and dropped Games 3 and 4 on the road in Saskatoon. With the series tied 2-2, the Raiders rolled off a 6-1 victory in Game 5 in Prince Albert and sealed the series win with a 6-3 victory in Game 6 last Sunday at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
    Habscheid remembers talking with his team after falling 4-1 in Game 4 and telling them about the opportunity they had to change things when the momentum of the series was going against them.
The Raiders faithful give their team a huge advantage at home.
    “You know what, we want this,” said Habscheid. “This is good for us. We’re not going to win 6-1 all the time. We need to go through this.
    “We need to feel an upset stomach. We need to have sleepless nights. We need to feel that anxiety. That is what you have to do to win.”
    Habscheid said being tied 2-2 with the Raiders was particularly challenging due to the fact his Raiders felt they should have won Games 3 and 4 in Saskatoon. In those two games, Blades star netminder Nolan Maier turned away 69-of-70 shots to back his side to two wins.
    The Blades, who finished fourth overall in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 45-15-8 record and were an honourable mention in the final CHL Top 10 rankings, took Game 3 of the series 1-0.
Dante Hannoun, left, leads the Raiders in post-season scoring.
    “If we plan on getting to where we want to go, we have to go through situations like that, and we did,” said Habscheid. “I think we responded in Game 5 and obviously (we were) real good (in Game 6).”
    In the conference final, the Raiders face the challenge of taking on another stubborn foe in the Oil Kings. 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.
    Edmonton downed the Medicine Hat Tigers in a best-of-seven first round series in six games and swept the Calgary Hitmen 4-0 in the other WHL Eastern Conference semifinal series.
    The Oil Kings have been off since blanking the Hitmen 6-0 in Calgary on April 10.
Brett Leason topped the Raiders in regular season scoring.
    “Obviously, they got a little more rest that we did,” said Raiders captain Brayden Pachal. “We faced adversity that we haven’t so much in the regular season, so it was a good test for us.
    “We are looking forward to Edmonton.”
    Star right-winger Brett Leason led the Raiders in regular season scoring with 36 goals and 53 assists for 89 points, while posting a plus-55 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Overage star centre Noah Gregor was second in regular season scoring for the Raiders posting 43 goals and 45 assists for 88 points to go with a plus-49 rating.
    Captain Brayden Pachal put up the most points out of all the Raiders defenceman. The Estevan, Sask., product racked up 15 goals and 36 assists for 51 points.
    He topped the entire WHL in plus-minus with a plus-76 rating. Defensive partner Zack Hayes was second in the league in plus-minus with a plus-71 rating, while contributing three goals and 24 assists on the offensive end.
    Star netminder Ian Scott had a spectacular regular season posting a 38-8-3 record, a 1.83 goals against average, a .932 save percentage and a team record eight shutouts.
    The Raiders will be without physical forward Justin Nachbaur for Game 1 of the series with the Oil Kings, because he will be sitting out the second of a two-game league imposed suspension. Nachbaur received the suspension for getting an interference major and a game misconduct in the Raiders Game 5 win over the Blades.
Noah Gregor has been stellar for the Raiders all season.
    Overage centre Dante Hannoun leads the Raiders in post-season scoring with nine goals and five assists to go with a plus-seven rating. Hannoun said his Raiders are that much more ready for the rest of the post-season after their series win over the Blades.
    “They battled hard,” said Hannoun. “They pushed every game, and we pushed back.
“You have to give them credit.”
    Captain Trey Fix-Wolansky topped the Oil Kings in regular season scoring with 37 goals and 65 assists for 102 points, while posting a plus-36 rating in the plus-minus department.
    Overage centre Vince Loschiavo was second in team scoring with 37 goals and 25 assists for 62 points. He leads the Oil Kings in post-season scoring with five goals and five assists.
    Offensive-defenceman Conner McDonald topped all Edmonton blue-liners in scoring with 19 goals and 31 assists for 50 points to go with a plus-16 rating during the regular season.
Trey Fix-Wolansky will be looking to celebrate a number of Oil Kings goals.
    Dylan Myskiw carried the load as the Oil Kings starter in goal posting a 28-11-5 record, a 2.53 goals against average, a .914 save percentage and one shutout in regular season play.
    The Raiders and Oil Kings met four times in the regular season, and Prince Albert won three out of those four head-to-head encounters.
    “We’ve had a good series with Edmonton all season too,” said Raiders power forward Parker Kelly. “They are going to be another team that is going to try and push us to our limits.”
    The Raiders are appearing in the Eastern Conference final for the first time since falling to the Brandon Wheat Kings in seven games back in 2005, which is a playoff foray that is generally known in Prince Albert at “The Run.”
Parker Kelly is looking to push the Raiders even further in the playoffs.
    Pachal said “Hockey Town North” is jumping at the prospect as what is to come.
    “It is an amazing feeling,” said Pachal. “Obviously, small market P.A. hasn’t seen a team like this in a while.
    “It is fun to be back on the map. The city is buzzing all the time. It is definitely a fun and a tough rink to play in back at the Hauser.”
    Home ice advantage could prove to be big as the Raiders have yet to lose in five post-season games at home and were 28-4-2 at the Art Hauser Centre during the regular season.
    So far in the playoffs, attendance for Raiders home game hasn’t dipped below 3,000 at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre. The last three Raiders home games were sellouts with 3,289 people turning out for each of those contests.
    Kelly said his club gets pumped up from the home ice atmosphere.
    “It is crazy,” said Kelly. “I’ve never see the rink like that in Game 5 (in the 6-1 win over the Blades).
The Raiders faithful will be ready to bring it in the conference final.
    “It was pretty crazy. It was three deep (on the concourse) and soldout. It is so fun to play in.
    “There is going to be a lot of fan support, and we are going to use that to our advantage.”
    The winner of the series between the Raiders and Oil Kings will take on the winner of the WHL’s Western Conference Championship series between the Vancouver Giants and Spokane Chiefs in the WHL final. The Giants finished second overall in the WHL at 48-15-3-2, while the Chiefs were eighth overall at 40-21-5-2.

Saskatoon/P.A. get Canada Russia Series games

The Blades and Raiders will each host a Canada Russia Series game.
    On Thursday, the CHL announced Saskatoon and Prince Albert will host the final two games of the CIBC Canada Russia series set for this coming November.
    The Canada Russia Series in an annual six-game event that is often used as a final evaluation point for Hockey Canada to determine its final list of invites for the final selection camp for Canada’s world junior team in December.
    In the series, a Russian national junior team will take on all-star teams from each of Canada’s three major junior leagues. The Russian team will face all-star teams from the QMJHL, OHL and the WHL twice each.
    The Saskatoon Blades will host the fifth game of the series on Nov. 13 at the SaskTel Centre. The Prince Albert Raiders will host the sixth and final game of the series on Nov. 14 at the Art Hauser Centre. The start times of the games are still to be determined.
    Saskatoon hosted games in this series on two previous occasions in 2005 and 2014. Prince Albert hosted this series on one other occasion back in 2008.

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