Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Raiders bow out at Memorial Cup with 5-2 loss to Storm

Skid for WHL champs grows to 13 games at CHL title tourney

Sean Montgomery had a goal for the Raiders on Tuesday.
    The Prince Albert Raiders suffered the same fate at the Memorial Cup as the three WHL champions that came before them.
    On Tuesday, the Raiders closed play at the Memorial Cup tournament falling 5-2 to the OHL champion Guelph Storm before 9,248 spectators at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, N.S.
    With the loss the Raiders were eliminated from the tournament finishing last in the round robin standings at 0-3.
    The same fate was suffered by the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2016, the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2017 and the Swift Current Broncos a year ago. Like the Raiders this year, all of those clubs felt an extreme high winning the WHL title and capturing the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    The league championship victory was followed by an epilogue of going winless in the CHL championship tournament creating a bit of flat feeling at the end of the campaign.
    In total, the club that enters the Memorial Cup as the WHL champion has lost 13 straight games at the CHL championship tourney. The last time a WHL champion posted a win at the Memorial Cup came back on May 29, 2015, when the Kelowna Rockets hammered the host Remparts 9-3 in Quebec City, Quebec, in a semifinal contest.
    Since 2015, WHL clubs have earned wins at the Memorial Cup, when they enter the event as the host team. The Red Deer Rebels went 2-2 as tournament host in 2016, and the Regina Pats were 3-2 as the hosts of last year’s 100th edition of the event.
    The Pats made the Memorial Cup title game a year ago falling 3-0 to the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
    Still when looking at the fate of the entrant that is the WHL champion since 2015, one wonders how long the losing streak for that entrant will go at the Memorial Cup.
Noah Gregor was one of the Raiders top players this season.
    Over the past 10 tournaments that have determined the CHL champion, a WHL club has come out victorious just once in 2014 when the Edmonton Oil Kings captured the Memorial Cup in London, Ont.
    Clubs from the OHL won the Memorial Cup five times over that span of time, while clubs from the QMJHL have taken the title four times. When the title game of this year’s tournament is played on Sunday, the WHL as a league will have won one of the last 11 Memorial Cup championships.
    Now that the Raiders have been eliminated at this year’s event, the WHL as a league has matched its longest drought of not winning major junior hockey’s biggest prize spanning five seasons. The WHL failed the win the Memorial Cup over a five year span from 2009 to 2013.
    Clubs from the WHL first became eligible to play for the Memorial Cup in the 1970-71 campaign.
    Due to the WHL’s lack of success at the Memorial Cup, the notion that teams coming out of the OHL and QMJHL are better than those in the WHL just keeps growing.
    Honestly, how can that notion not grow?
    While the WHL has been in a funk at the Memorial Cup, hopes were high the Raiders might break that funk, even when they entered Tuesday’s game against the Storm.
    Fans of the Prince Albert club saw a core group of players grow together in overager Sean Montgomery, who is a career Raider, captain Brayden Pachal, Zack Hayes, Max Martin, Spencer Moe, Cole Fonstad, Parker Kelly and star netminder Ian Scott from a 2016-17 campaign that saw the then young squad take their lumps posting a 21-44-5-2 record.
    In a magical 2018-19 campaign, the Raiders posted the WHL’s best regular season mark at 54-10-2-2 and were also rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
Dante Hannoun scored for the Raiders on Tuesday.
    They captured the WHL title in dramatic fashion when standout overage centre Dante Hannoun scored in overtime in Game 7 of the league final to beat the Vancouver Giants 3-2 before a sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre.
    With all that had happened to the Raiders, you thought fate wouldn’t let them exit the Memorial Cup at 0-3.
    The Storm finished eighth overall in the OHL’s regular season with a 40-18-6-4 mark before winning their league championship. If the Raiders were going to pick up a win at the Memorial Cup, this might very well be the spot.
    The Storm opened the scoring on Tuesday at the 9:42 mark of the first period. After catching the Raiders on a bad line change, the Storm entered the Prince Albert zone on a two-on-one break.
    Storm centre Nick Suzuki made a sweet pass over to pinching defenceman Fedor Gordeev, and Gordeev converted the setup for his first goal of the tournament.
    The Raiders pulled even at 1-1 scoring their first power-play goal of the tournament, when Montgomery tipped home a point shot by star overage centre Noah Gregor at the 11:32 mark of the first.
    The goals kept coming in the opening frame. With 4:42 remaining in the first, Storm captain Isaac Ratcliffe took a pass from linemate MacKenzie Entwistle, cut across the front of the Prince Albert net and tucked home a backhand shot between the legs of Scott to give Guelph a 2-1 lead.
    With 43.1 seconds remaining in the first, the Raiders pulled even at 2-2, when Hannoun tipped home a point shot from Pachal.
    From that exciting opening 20 minutes, Guelph assumed control of the game.
    The Storm surged ahead 4-2 scoring twice early in the second period.
Brayden Pachal gave the Raiders great leadership.
    While working the power play, import left-winger Pavel Gogolev sent a pass from the left boards to Liam Hawel in front of the Prince Albert goal. Hawel blew home a shot to put the storm up 3-2 just 81 seconds into the second.
    The Storm struck again on a centre ice turnover. Storm defenceman Sean Durzi picked off a Raiders pass at the red-line and quickly transitioned the puck up ice.
    Durzi sent the puck to Ratcliffe on the left wing, and Ratcliffe slipped a beauty pass to get Suzuki in alone on the Prince Albert goal. Suzuki put a shot to the right corner of the Raiders net at the 5:02 mark of the second to put the Storm up 4-2.
    At the 6:42 mark of the third, Suzuki had the puck behind the icing line in the Prince Albert zone and banked it off the back of Scott into the Raiders goal to round out the scoring in the contest.
    Scott turned away 20 shots to take the setback in goal for the Raiders. Anthony Popovich stopped 19 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Storm.
    The Raiders weren’t able to get any real traction to mount a comeback over the second and third frames, as the Storm had an advantage in puck possession. Guelph also had a 41-18 edge in faceoffs won forcing Prince Albert to chase to get possession of the puck.
    To make the night even more heartbreaking for the Raiders, star right-winger Brett Leason was stopped twice on one breakaway opportunity late in the third.
    The Storm finished round robin play with a 2-1 record. Guelph is waiting on the result of Wednesday’s final round robin game between the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (1-1) and host Halifax Mooseheads (2-0) to see if it will play in Friday’s semifinal or Sunday’s title game.
    For the Raiders, they had a spectacular season. Since entering the major junior ranks at the start of the 1982-83 campaign, the Raiders captured the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for finishing first in the overall league standings for the second time in team history.
Parker Kelly played the power forward role to perfection in 2018-19.
    Prince Albert won the WHL crown for the second time in team history.
    The last time the Raiders finished first in the WHL regular season and won the league title was back in 1984-85, when they won their only Memorial Cup title.
    For a team that went through a 13-year stretch from 2006 to 2018 of missing the playoffs seven times and being eliminated in the first round six times, the Raiders have a lot to be proud of. They returned to elite status in the major junior ranks.
    Unfortunately for the WHL, the losing streak by its league champion at the Memorial Cup tournament remains.
    It will be the elephant in the room the circuit has to deal with until a WHL champion finally wins to put an end to the skid.

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