Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Hannoun’s Game 7 OT winner will be legendary in Raiders lore

Dante Hannoun lifts the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - A day later, it is still hard to believe the finish that took place at the Art Hauser Centre.
    You still question, “Did Dante Hannoun’s overtime winning goal really happen?”
    There is no controversy whether Hannoun scored or not. If you support the Prince Albert Raiders, it seems almost too good to be true that a pretty play like Hannoun’s goal actually happened in the most nerve-racking of times.
    On Monday, the Raiders went to overtime locked in a 2-2 tie with the Vancouver Giants in a series deciding Game 7 of the WHL Championship series. The two best teams from the WHL’s regular season were in a situation where the next goal takes the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    The Raiders topped the WHL regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
The Raiders mob Dante Hannoun after his OT winner.
    Vancouver finished second overall in the WHL with a 48-15-3-2 mark and was rated sixth in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    During the contest that featured various momentum swings, the sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat rink gave their team a number of warm standing ovations. One of those ovations came at the start of overtime and others followed in the extra session.
    Still there were fears a glorious moment might not happen for the Raiders.
    Then it happened.
    With 1:35 remaining in overtime, Raiders star overage centre Noah Gregor had the puck at the left side of the Vancouver net.
The Art Hauser Centre faithful cheers the Raiders.
    He slid a smart backdoor pass across the front of the goal to Hannoun, who tapped home the puck for a 3-2 Raiders victory.
    The crowd noise exploded at the team’s long time home rink in a way that was likely never seen before. Complete pandemonium, euphoria and elation reigned supreme as Hannoun made a victory dash skate to the back boards in the Raiders zone.
    In the history of the Raiders, Hannoun’s goal will go down as one of those “where were you when” moments.
    Currently, it is the signature hockey play in the history of the rink.
Dante Hannoun scored one of the biggest goals in Raiders history.
    It delivered the Ed Chynoweth Cup to the Raiders as they won their second WHL title in team history and first since 1985.
    Hannoun’s goal and the victory proved to be that much more special, because it happened in Prince Albert. The Raiders faithful were able to share in a special generational moment at home.
    The last time the Raiders won a major hockey championship on home ice came back in 1982, during the franchise’s final year in the junior A ranks. That season, the Raiders downed the Guelph Platers 8-4 in Prince Albert in the deciding game of the Centennial Cup championship series to become national champions at the junior A level for a fourth and final time.
    In the 13 seasons previous to the 2018-19 campaign, the Raiders missed the playoffs seven times and were eliminated in the first round six times.
    Their magical regular season combined with the fact they advanced to the WHL final restored the luster and the romanticized great vision of the skilled team that was tough and is honourable.
Dante Hannoun has become a favourite with the Raiders faithful.
    Hannoun’s goal took things to another level, where the current Raiders will be bonded together forever as league champions.
    The hard work of general manager Curtis Hunt, head coach Marc Habscheid and late director of player personnel Ron Gunville came to fruition in a major way on Monday.
    The pride and joy seen in the faces of Hunt and Habscheid watching their players enjoy the special victory was priceless.
    During the season, the Raiders players won with class and lost with class, but they rightfully let their hair down on Monday night.
Brett Leason enjoys a post-game photo opportunity.
    Hannoun’s goal allowed Raiders career overage centre Sean Montgomery to receive one of most rousing home salutes ever delivered in the building as he took the Ed Chynoweth Cup for a big swing around the rink. Montgomery played in a team record 345 career regular season games with the Raiders.
    Fellow veterans like Zack Hayes, captain Brayden Pachal, Max Martin, Spencer Moe, Cole Fonstad, Parker Kelly and star netminder Ian Scott all took growing pain lumps with the Raiders posting a 21-44-5-2 record in the 2016-17 campaign.
Duane “Puff” Bartley lifts the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Now they all got to relish in a WHL title victory on the Art Hauser Centre ice surface with family and friends post-game.
    The victory helped celebrate a season that saw right-winger Brett Leason achieve star status and import left-winger Aliaksei Protas emerge as a clutch playoff performer.
    Right-winger Justin Nachbaur and defenceman Jeremy Masella give the Raiders a big shot of toughness, while still flashing moments of great skill from time to time.
    You can go up and down the Raiders roster and say great things about every player. They are all outstanding young men and good citizens.
    Another heartwarming aspect of the celebrations was the fact Duane “Puff” Bartley, who has been the Raiders athletic therapist since 2001, got to enjoy a championship moment.
    Popular skills coach Mark Odnokon, who played on the Raiders Centennial Cup winning teams in 1981 and 1982, has put in a tonne of work over the years as a coach with the Prince Albert club, and it was warm to see him lift the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
Sean Montgomery goes for a skate with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    The Raiders faithful too basked in the moment. During the regular season, they packed the Art Hauser Centre with standing room crowds to the average of 2,615 spectators per game.
    In the playoffs, the Raiders played 12 home games and the last 10 of those were all sellouts.
    Even in seasons where attendance wasn’t the greatest, there was always a sense that Raiders fans would be there to back their team when push came to shove. Now they got reward for sticking with the club through the down years.
    Hannoun’s OT winner sparked so many great stories.
    Now the Raiders will try to finish the season with the ultimate capper by winning the Memorial Cup. Prince Albert opens the CHL championship tournament in Halifax, N.S., against the host Mooseheads.
Aliaksei Protas (#21) and Sergei Sapego (#12) enjoy photo time.
    An unbelievable season has the potential to become just that much sweeter.

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