Friday, 24 May 2019

Raiders’ core group enjoyed journey to WHL’s peak

Raiders LW Parker Kelly, right, always makes time for the fans.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – Parker Kelly is in his element, when he is amongst the fans.
    The Prince Albert Raiders power forward, who recently turned 20-years-old, soaked in every moment of a rally held for the team on Thursday night at the Art Hauser Centre. The rally concluded with the Raiders players signing autographs for a lengthy stretch after the formal part of the program for the fans.
    Kelly was smiling away and being his jovial self, while greeting the team’s supporters. The Camrose, Alta., product was intent on signing every autograph request and satisfying every picture query.
Parker Kelly in action for the Raiders in the WHL final.
    Thursday’s rally attracted about 600 fans, but sometimes it was hard to pin down the estimate. It was obvious some of the team’s faithful came fresh from games at the neighbouring softball fields as young players were still wearing the uniforms of their local minor ball teams.
    Some came from the neighbouring track facility and were wearing their track and field gear.
    Kelly was happy to see all the supporters, who came down to celebrate what was a special and remarkable season for the Raiders.
    After going through a 13-year stretch where they missed the playoffs seven times and were eliminated in the first round six times starting in 2006, the Raiders had their season in the sun in 2018-19.
    They finished first in the WHL’s regular season standings with a 54-10-2-2 record and were rated second in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
The Raiders faithful give their team a standing ovation on Thursday.
    They won the WHL final in a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game 7 against the Vancouver Giants with overage centre Dante Hannoun scoring the winner. With that win, the Raiders captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Prince Albert advanced to the Memorial Cup tournament in Halifax, N.S. and bowed out after posting an 0-3 record. The Raiders closed play at the Memorial Cup on Tuesday falling 5-2 to the OHL champions Guelph Storm.
    Kelly was pumped to see the turnout on the final night the 2018-19 Raiders would get together as some members of the team were slated to start returning home on Friday.
Raiders fans had their picture taken with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    “It is unbelievable,” said Kelly. “It is kind of starting to sink in now.
    “You see all the people here after a long work day coming to support us, a little celebration we had tonight, it is really cool to see all the support we have and how many people love coming to watch us play. We appreciate it so much.
    “It is such an underrated town. It has to be one of the best places to play, when it is packed. We really appreciate these guys.”
    Kelly was part of a core group of eight players that were with the Raiders in 2016-17, when the club finished third last in the WHL with a 21-44-5-2 record. The other members from that group included Brayden Pachal, who became the team’s captain this season, Zack Hayes, Max Martin, Spencer Moe, Cole Fonstad, Sean Montgomery and netminder Ian Scott.
    Together, they pushed the Raiders into the playoffs with a 32-27-9-4 regular season record in 2017-18, where they fell in a heartbreaking seven game first round series to the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Raiders centre Sean Montgomery, right, satisfies a fan request.
    That set the stage for the magical campaign in 2018-19, where the Raiders topped the WHL standings and won the WHL title for the first time since the 1984-85 campaign. The 1984-85 Raiders were able to capture the Memorial Cup as CHL champions.
    Kelly was part of the team’s WHL Bantam Draft class in 2014 with Scott and Hayes and was proud the core group from the 2016-17 campaign could grow and persevere.
    “I go back to what Habby (Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid) said in his interview about us getting sand kicked in our faces and us being made fun of,” said Kelly. “All I can just say is look at us now - we’re champs.
    “We’re going to have rings on our figures. I’ve been through thick and thin with those guys, and you know what, we’re going to be brothers for life.”
Sean Montgomery was a heart and soul career Raiders player.
    Montgomery is the elder statesman of the entire Raiders team. The Calgary, Alta., product was selected in the sixth round and 114th overall in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft.
    He would go on to play a team record 345 career regular season games for the Raiders collecting 72 goals and 72 assists. Montgomery enjoyed sharing the ride with the core group of eight that has been together since the 2016-17 season.
    “That has been awesome,” said Montgomery. “We’ve had a few tough years, but we learned from those years and grew from them and now we won.”
    The Raiders acquired Pachal in a trade with the Victoria Royals on Jan. 9, 2017. Pachal remembered the taunts he first endured with the Raiders after joining them for the second half of the 2016-17 campaign.
    “We didn’t forget that, and now we are at the top,” said Pachal. “We lost with class, and now we’ve won with class.
Captain Brayden Pachal addresses the team’s faithful on Thursday.
    “It is an amazing feeling. Obviously, becoming close with all those core guys is amazing, but at the same time it is tough. There are a lot of us that won’t be back next year.
    “We played our last game as a group together. It is a tough one. It is bittersweet.”
    Habscheid has gotten emotional talking about his team since the club concluded play at the Memorial Cup. He has a big sense of pride for his players and what they accomplished this season.
    The veteran bench boss said it has been fun seeing the journey the core group of eight has been on together since the 2016-17 season.
    “We just stayed with it,” said Habscheid. “We just kept believing and kept working.
    “You know hard work pays off, and it showed. These guys are league champions, and they resurrected a franchise that needed a little shot in the arm. They provided that for the franchise and for the city.”
    Kelly admitted there were stretches this season where he was really locked in and focused on the task at hand.
A scene that will be remembered forever in Prince Albert.
    During those stretches where the team is working hard day after day, Kelly said he might have not taken enough time to reflect how fun the ride has been.
    The prospect of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators said events like the rally that was held for the Raiders on Thursday more than made up for the times he might have been too locked in.
    “You kind of miss how fun a whole season is with your brothers and playing with them every night, going to war with them,” said Kelly. “When you finally get to raise a trophy and have a celebration like this, it is unbelievable.
    “There are really no words to put it other than it is just so surreal right now. Like we always say, we’ll be brothers forever and we’ll walk together for the rest of our lives.”

Huskies punch ticket to all-QMJHL Memorial Cup title game

    The Memorial Cup’s title game will be a rematch of the QMJHL championship series.
    On Friday, the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies slipped past the OHL champion Guelph Storm 6-4 in a Memorial Cup semifinal game before a sellout crowd of 10,595 spectators at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, N.S.
    The Huskies and Storm entered the third period locked in a 3-3 tie.
    Huskies centre Felix Bibeau scored the first two goals of the third to put Rouyn-Noranda up 5-3.
    With 73 seconds remaining in the third period, Storm captain Isaac Ratcliffe scored his second of two goals on the night to cut the Huskies lead to 5-4.
    Huskies captain Rafael Harvey-Pinard sealed victory for his side scoring into an empty net with 2.9 seconds remaining in the third. Harvey-Pinard had two assists to go with his goal.
    Alex Beaucage, Joel Teasdale and Tyler Hinam had singles for the Huskies. Jack Hanley and Cedric Ralph replied with singles for the Storm.
    Samuel Harvey stopped 34 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies. Anthony Popovich turned away 33-of-38 shots to take the loss in goal for the Storm.
    Huskies offensive defenceman Noah Dobson was stopped on a penalty shot.
    With the win, the Huskies will play for the CHL championship advancing to the Memorial Cup title game on Sunday to play the host Halifax Mooseheads (5 p.m. Saskatchewan time, Sportsnet).
    The only other time there was an all-QMJHL title game at the Memorial Cup came back in 2006, when the QMJHL finalists Quebec Remparts downed the host and QMJHL champion Moncton Wildcats 6-2 in 2006.
    The Huskies beat the Mooseheads 4-2 in the best-of-seven QMJHL final. The Huskies downed the Mooseheads 4-3 in a round robin game on Wednesday.
    The Huskies topped the QMJHL regular season standings with a 59-8-0-1 record and were rated first in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    The Mooseheads finished first in the QMJHL’s Eastern Conference in the regular season with a 49-15-2-2 mark and were rated eighth in the final CHL Top 10 rankings.
    Friday’s game brought an end to a remarkable run for Guelph. The Storm finished eighth overall in the OHL’s regular season with a 40-18-6-4 mark.
    Guelph trailed the London Knights 3-0 in a best-of-seven second round series and rallied for four straight wins for a 4-3 series victory.
    In the best-of-seven Western Conference final, the Storm fell behind the Saginaw Spirit 3-1 before rallying for three straight wins to take the series 4-3.
    In the best-of-seven OHL final, the Storm fell behind 2-0 to the Ottawa 67’s before rallying for four straight wins to take the series 4-2.
    At the Memorial Cup tournament, the Mooseheads, Huskies and Storm all had 2-1 records in the round robin portion of the tournament.

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