|The Giants celebrate a goal from Dylan Plouffe.|
Before a sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre, the visiting Vancouver Giants and the host Prince Albert Raiders engaged in an all over the place war in Game 1 of the WHL Championship series.
The clash included a lot of big hits, momentum swings and goals by both sides. When the dust settled, the Giants escaped with a 5-4 victory allowing captain Jared Dmytriw and right-winger Dawson Holt to have a memorable Saskatchewan homecoming.
|Dawson Holt had a pair of goals for the Giants.|
“It is pretty exciting to be back here in Saskatchewan for me and Dawson (Holt),” said Dmytriw, whose club will face the Raiders in Game 2 of the WHL final on Saturday at 7 p.m. local time at the Art Hauser Centre. “To be in the WHL final is special and to play anywhere, but to have friends and family in the stands is always nice.
“It is awesome to get the win tonight is the biggest thing. It felt good out there tonight and we’re proud of the way the guys played to finish it off like that.”
|Captain Jared Dmytriw celebrates scoring for the Giants.|
“It is super cool,” said Holt. “Obviously, I had a lot of family and friends here.
“To be able to get the win in front of them is obviously pretty special. Obviously, their crowd is loud. There is no secret about it.
“To get some momentum and kind of quiet them down a little bit, it was big.”
The Giants had all the momentum early in the first period and found themselves working on a two-man advantage. On that power play, Giants star defenceman Bowen Byram found his defensive partner Dylan Plouffe down in the right slot with a pass, and Plouffe one-timed home a goal to give the Giants a 1-0 at the 4:20 mark of the opening frame.
|Giants fans cheer one of their team’s goals.|
Giants head coach Michael Dyck said early excitement helped his squad jump out to a good start.
“Honestly, I think their crowd helped,” said Dyck. “We could hear a buzz before we got out.
“We knew what we were coming in to. Anytime you get a chance to play in the finals, you have to take advantage of it. I know everybody was really excited about getting going.
Raiders star right-winger Brett Leason fired home a power-play goal at the 3:20 mark of the second to cut the Giants lead to 2-1.
At the 5:13 mark, Dmytriw scored off a rush for the Giants to extend Vancouver’s edge to 3-1.
Just 64 seconds later, Raiders star centre Noah Gregor sniped home a beauty set up pass from linemate Parker Kelly from the front of the Vancouver goal to cut the Giants lead to 3-2.
With 3:15 remaining in the second, Raiders speedy overage centre Dante Hannoun backhanded home the rebound of a shot taken by Kelly to pull the Raiders even at 3-3.
|Dante Hannoun scored a second period equalizer for the Raiders.|
“I thought we just stayed calm, and we just worked hard,” said Hannoun. “Shifts after goals are pretty huge here in playoffs, so we focus on that and just a shift at a time here.”
Before the second ended, the momentum swung back in favour of the Giants. With 30.9 seconds remaining in the second, Giants import right-winger Yannik Valenti drove home a power-play goal from the front of the Prince Albert net to give Vancouver a 4-3 lead.
Holt followed by scoring his second of the contest with 16.5 seconds remaining in the second sneaking a bad angle shot by Raiders star netminder Ian Scott to give the visitors a 5-3 lead.
“A little bit of the elephant in the room, I think Scotty (Scott) wants a few of those goals back there is no doubt,” said Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid. “We win as a team. We lose as a team.
|The Raiders faithful cheers one of their team’s goals.|
Still, the Raiders attempted to battle back in the third. At the 2:50 mark of the third, Raiders veteran defensive defenceman Jeremy Masella did his best imitation of hockey legend Bobby Orr.
Masella got the puck at the left point of the Vancouver blue-line, zipped across the blue-line, drove down the right wing, cut to the front of the Vancouver net and slipped home a goal between the legs of Giants star netminder David Tendeck. Masella’s highlight reel goal cut the Vancouver lead to 5-4.
|Bowen Byram had four assists for the Giants.|
Tendeck stopped 25 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Giants. Byram picked up assists on four of the Giants goals.
Scott turned away 21 shots to take the setback in goal for the Raiders.
Habscheid said his club was a little too nervous in the first period, but he wasn’t disappointed in the effort put in by his side.
“I liked a lot about our game,” said Habscheid. “We did a lot of real good things.
“I liked our speed. I liked the way we moved the puck. They are a good team, but we’re confident in our game and in our team.”
Raiders captain Brayden Pachal expected the intensity that came out of Friday’s clash.
“It is the WHL final,” said Pachal. “We are in each others’ way here for a championship here.
“Obviously, there is no love out there.”
Despite the setback, Pachal came away optimistic about a lot of aspects of Friday’s encounter.
|Zack Hayes controls the puck at the point for the Raiders.|
“We just have to look forward to tomorrow.”
Dyck thought Friday’s opener was fitting of a contest between the teams that topped the WHL’s regular season standings.
The Raiders finished first overall in the regular season at 54-10-2-2 and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
The Giants finished second overall at 48-15-3-2 and were rated sixth in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
Dyck said his club has to keep playing their style of a play going forward with a touch more focus.
“I don’t think that we’re going to tweak much,” said Dyck. “We have to do what we do more consistent and better in some spots.
|The Giants celebrate their victory in Game 1 of the WHL final.|
“They play on their toes, and they are a very good transition team.”
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