Saturday, 25 May 2019

Legacy of spectacular Raiders season will live on forever

The Raiders celebrate winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    The Prince Albert Raiders relished in a 2018-19 campaign that you couldn’t script for the most part.
    How could anyone envision a campaign that sees star netminder Ian Scott score a goal during the regular season.
    The same goes for winning a league title on home ice in Game 7 in overtime. That Raiders pulled that off on May 13 before a sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre.
    Overage centre Dante Hannoun had the honours of netting the winner with 1:35 remaining in overtime tapping home a backdoor feed at that right side of the Vancouver Giants goal. He converted a beauty pass from linemate Noah Gregor.
Brett Leason celebrated scoring a number of goals for the Raiders.
    Hannoun’s tally gave the Raiders a 3-2 victory and sent the faithful at the Art Hauser Centre into a joyful celebration that might have been unmatched in the history of the club’s storied home rink. It delivered the Ed Chynoweth Cup to the Raiders as WHL champions.
    That goal is destined to become the building’s signature moment and a legend that will live on forever in “Hockey Town North.”
    For the Raiders and their fans, it was a season under the sun that was a long time coming. Entering the 2018-19 campaign, the Raiders hadn’t experienced a whole lot of success in the 13 previous campaigns missing the playoffs seven times and being eliminated in the first round six times.
    In the 2018 post-season, Prince Albert almost pulled off a major upset.
Noah Gregor had a stellar final WHL campaign for the Raiders.
    The Raiders, who were 32-27-9-4 in the 2017-18 regular season, went the distance before falling in seven games to the Moose Jaw Warriors, who led the 2017-18 WHL regular season standings at 52-15-2-3, in the first round.
    The Raiders were tied 4-4 late in the third period in that Game 7 with the Warriors before falling 5-4.
    Prince Albert entered the 2018-19 campaign with legitimate hopes of having a special season like when it advanced to the WHL Eastern Conference Championship series in 2005. The Raiders fell in seven games to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the conference final that year.
    The Raiders were carrying a core group of eight players in Brayden Pachal, who became the team’s captain this season, Parker Kelly, Zack Hayes, Max Martin, Spencer Moe, Cole Fonstad, Sean Montgomery and Scott.
Dante Hannoun will always have a special place in the hearts of Raiders fans.
    That group was with the team in 2016-17 when the Raiders finished third last in the WHL with a 21-44-5-2 record.
    People in Prince Albert watched that likable and well-mannered group grow together and hoped their hard work would pay off in a big way with big accomplishments.
    Still, optimism was tempered. It seemed there was still a slight fear that maybe special seasons weren’t meant to come the Raiders way and that fate might ultimately conspire to bring down the team.
    No one expected the chips to fall like they did.
    The Raiders topped the WHL’s regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record.
Spencer Moe (#11) gets set to take a draw for the Raiders.
    The only time the club posted more regular season wins in the WHL came in the 1984-85 campaign, when the Raiders recorded a record of 58 wins, 11 losses and three ties.
    Prince Albert went on to win the WHL title and the Memorial Cup that season.
    During the 2018-19 campaign, the Raiders topped the CHL’s Top 10 rankings for a number of weeks and were rated second in the final installment of those rankings.
    The fans in Prince Albert realized early that something special was at hand. They started to pack into the Art Hauser Centre early in the campaign, and the team averaged standing room crowds of 2,615 spectators over 34 regular season home dates.
Zack Hayes was solid defensively on the back end for the Raiders.
    It was a big jump from the 2,050 spectators the Raiders averaged for 36 home games in the 2017-18 campaign.
    During the 2019 playoffs, attendance at Raiders games never dipped below 3,000 over a run that included 12 home contests. The sellout figure of 3,289 became a fixed sight over the last 10 of those games as people brought in milk crates, stools and boxes to stand on to see the action on the ice.
    When doors opened an hour before game time, fans ran to get their standing room spots.
    Faith in the Raiders always existed in Prince Albert. The 2018-19 campaign finally saw that faith be rewarded and the fans soaked in every moment of the journey.
Sean Montgomery (#25) wins a battle on the boards for the Raiders.
    The Raiders received a shot in the arm with a breakout season by 19-year-old right-winger Brett Leason, who shot up to star status. He 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 in 55 regular season games.
    Leason and Scott earned spots on Canada’s world junior team.
    In the WHL post-season, Leason emerged as the club’s top scorer there too with 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points in 22 appearances.
    Gregor, who has a signed NHL entry-level contract with the San Jose Sharks, showed he is ready for the next level piling up 43 goals and 45 assists for 88 points to go with a plus-49 rating in 63 regular season games.
The passion of the Raiders faithful could not be denied.
    The WHL rights to the star overage centre were acquired from the Victoria Royals last June.
    Hard-working career Raiders centre Sean Montgomery had a big personal season the squad’s followers were hoping would come his way. He piled up 29 goals and 30 assists for 59 points to go with a plus-41 rating in 67 regular season games.
    Import left-winger Aliaksei Protas took on hero status in the post-season netting 12 goals and 10 assists for 22 points to go along with a plus-12 rating in 23 games in the WHL playoffs. 
    The Raiders had a starting six on defence that was one of the best in the CHL in Pachal, Hayes, Max Martin, Sergei Sapego, Jeremy Masella and Kaiden Guhle. They were arguably one of the best groups of six the Raider have ever placed on the ice to protect their back end.
The Raiders faithful cheer one of the team’s goals.
    Scott was a clutch last line of defence in goal.
    All the work of general manager Curtis Hunt and head coach Marc Habscheid came to fruition. The pair has worked together building the team since the start of the 2015-16 campaign.
    Habscheid joined the Raiders partway through the 2014-15 season and Hunt came up board before the start of the 2015-16 campaign.
    Both men have been popular with the fans in all their years with the team. Hunt was also a Raiders defenceman back in their 1984-85 Memorial Cup winning season.
    Even when you walk into the team’s business office, there is a warm family type feeling there among that group headed up by business manager Michael Scissons.
At times it felt like the fans were on top of Raiders goal celebrations.
    As a whole, the organization is all class. The class came through when deaths had an impact on the club.
    On April 6, 2018, Raiders prospect and defenceman Adam Herold passed away in the bus crash involving the junior A Humboldt Broncos. Herold played four career regular season games with the WHL club and made strong friendships during his time with the squad.
    Last summer, Habscheid’s father, Nicholas, passed away and the bench boss said his players were big in helping him through that.
    Last December, Ron Gunville, who was the Raiders director of player personnel, passed away as well. In March, former Raiders player, head coach and general manager Donn Clark passed away too. Clark was inducted on to the Raiders Wall of Fame in his final days of life.
    The memory of all four men was prevalent during the Raiders run to winning the WHL title.
Parker Kelly, left, and Brayden Pachal do their handshake after a win.
    When the Raiders won the WHL title, the team picture at centre ice with the Ed Chynoweth Cup was heartwarming. The family that was made up of good people was happy and on the league’s mountaintop sharing that moment with the community.
    The only thing the Raiders weren’t able to do was win the Memorial Cup. They went 0-3 in the CHL championship tournament.
    That will ultimately just be an epilogue.
    The overriding memory of the 2018-19 season will be the fact the Raiders finished first in the WHL’s regular season standings and won the league crown both for the second time in team history. It has been a 34-year wait for the Raiders and their fans to go through those experiences again.
    The Raiders received a shot in the arm, and it was deserved shot that was long overdue. “Hockey Town North” is once again a force on the hockey map.

Scott claims CHL goaltender of the year honours

Ian Scott earned CHL goaltender of the year honours for the stops he made.
    Ian Scott achieved a first for the Prince Albert Raiders, when it came to the CHL awards.
    On Saturday, the CHL’s major individual awards were handed out as part of the Memorial Cup tournament festivities going on in Halifax, N.S., and Scott was named the winner of the goaltender of the year award.
    The Calgary product, who turned 20-years-old in January, became the first goalie from the Raiders to ever win the CHL goaltender of the year award, which was first handed out in the 1987-88 campaign.
    Scott, who has signed an NHL entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, had an outstanding season posting a 38-8-3 record, a 1.83 goals against average, a .932 save percentage and eight shutouts.
Ian Scott makes a kick save during a post-season game in Edmonton.
    His goals against average, save percentage and shutout totals were all regular season club records.
    In his 49 regular season appearances, Scott, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 183 pounds, collected two assists, and he scored a goal. Scott scored his goal shooting the puck into an empty net in the Raiders 3-1 victory at the Art Hauser Centre on Nov. 16, 2018.
    During the WHL playoffs, Scott continued his impressive performance. He played in all of the Raiders 23 games in the WHL post-season posting a 16-7 record, a 1.96 goals against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts.
    When the Raiders won the WHL title, Scott was named the MVP of the WHL playoffs.
Ian Scott stops a shot in Game 7 of the WHL final.
    Scott has played in four complete seasons with the Raiders. Over that time, he has appeared in 175 career regular season games posting an 87-64-14 record, a 2.90 goals against average, a .905 save percentage and 11 shutouts.
    Scott is the Raiders all-time career leader in regular season victories. He is eligible to return to the WHL for an overage season, but he is expected to play next season somewhere in the Leafs professional system.
    Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid was nominated for Brian Kilrea coach of the year award, but that honour went to Mario Pouliot, who is the head goal of the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
    Bowen Byram, who is a Vancouver Giants defenceman, was named the top prospect. Jason Robertson of the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs claimed honours as the top scorer.
Ian Scott, left, took MVP honours in the WHL playoffs.
    Justin Almeida of the Moose Jaw Warriors picked up the sportsman of the year award. Charle-Edouard D’Astrous of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic claimed honours as the humanitarian of the year.
    Netminder Dustin Wolf of the Everett Silvertips was named the scholastic player of the year. Quinton Byfield of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves claimed rookie of the year honours.
    Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs took home the defenceman of the year award. Alexis Lafreniere of the Oceanic was named the player of the year.
    The Memorial Cup title game will conclude the CHL’s 2018-19 campaign. It is set for Sunday and features the Huskies taking on the host Halifax Mooseheads in an all-QMJHL tilt (5 p.m. Saskatchewan time, Sportsnet).

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