Thursday, 16 May 2019

Raiders face next biggest challenge – the WHL’s jinx at the Memorial Cup

The Raiders enjoyed winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup on Monday.
    It has been a magical season for the Prince Albert Raiders, but they might be facing their biggest test yet that could be tougher to overcome than any adversary at the Memorial Cup.
    Fresh off having won the WHL title on Monday thanks to Dante Hannoun’s thrilling overtime winner in Game 7 of the league final, the Raiders will try to overcome the WHL’s decade long jinx at the Memorial Cup.
    The Raiders, who possess the WHL championship trophy the Ed Chynoweth Cup, open the Memorial Cup in Halifax, N.S., on Friday taking on the host Mooseheads (5 p.m. Saskatchewan time, Sportsnet).
    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.
    The Oil Kings were skating with an emotional edge as they were playing to honour the memory of former player Kristians Pelss. Pelss was a member of Edmonton’s 2012 WHL championship team and passed away in 2013 due to a recreation diving accident.
    Outside of that heartfelt victory, WHL clubs have watched teams from the CHL’s two other major junior leagues skate away with the Memorial Cup in nine of the past 10 tournaments.
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan won last year’s Memorial Cup.
    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.
    A year ago in Regina, the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan blanked the host Pats 3-0 in the Memorial Cup’s championship game.
    The club that has entered the Memorial Cup as the WHL champions have lost 10 straight games at this event. 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.
    Two days after that contest, the Rockets fell in a 2-1 overtime heartbreaker to the OHL champion Oshawa Generals in the Memorial Cup final.
The Swift Current Broncos went winless in the 2018 Memorial Cup.
    Since the 2015 tournament, the WHL has hosted the Memorial Cup twice and the host teams have fared better but weren’t able to win the championship trophy. In 2016, the Red Deer Rebels were 2-2 as the tournament host, and the Pats were 3-2 at last year’s event.
    It seems like a black cloud of bad luck hangs over the WHL teams that have visited the last 10 Memorial Cups excluding the Oil Kings in 2014.
    At times, it feels like the puck luck doesn’t go in the WHL’s favour. A year ago, the Swift Current Broncos entered the Memorial Cup as WHL champions and fell by one-goal margins in all three of their round robin games.
    Other times, a super team shows up like in 2010 in Brandon, Man., when Taylor Hall and the OHL champion Windsor Spitfires posted a perfect 4-0 record outscoring the opposition 28-9.
    If you are really superstitious, you wonder if the “Curse of the Drop” still exists.
    What is the “Curse of the Drop” you ask?
    On May 25, 2008, the WHL champion Spokane Chiefs downed the host Kitchener Rangers 4-1 in the Memorial Cup tournament’s championship game. It marked the second time the Chiefs captured the Memorial Cup to become CHL champions.
Brett Leason, right, had a big season for the Raiders.
    After winning the title in 2008, Chiefs captain Chris Bruton accepted the Memorial Cup. Bruton turned and was going to give the Memorial Cup to defenceman Trevor Glass. Glass, who was in his 19-year-old season at the time, was with the Medicine Hat Tigers the previous campaign when they won the WHL title and fell 3-1 in the Memorial Cup championship game to the host Vancouver Giants.
    As Bruton reached out to hand the Memorial Cup to Glass, the trophy separated at the neck and fell to the ice to the shock of the spectators in Kitchener, Ont.
    Following that moment, the WHL went on its longest drought ever of not winning major junior hockey’s biggest prize spanning five seasons from 2009 to 2013.
    After the Oil Kings reprieve in 2014, the WHL has come up empty on winning the championship in the last four straight Memorial Cup tournaments.
Noah Gregor was a multi-dimensional player for the Raiders.
    Clubs from the WHL first became eligible to play for the Memorial Cup in the 1970-71 campaign.
    Still, the Raiders might be the team that can overcome these superstitious hexes.
    They 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 are guided by head coach Marc Habscheid, who has been to this point before.
    Habscheid steered the Kelowna Rockets into the 2003 Memorial Cup as head coach and oversaw the Rockets winning the 2004 Memorial Cup as the host team.
    Raiders assistant coach Jeff Truitt was on those Kelowna coaching staffs as an assistant coach in 2003 and an associate coach in 2004.
    Prince Albert is arguably one of the WHL’s deepest and most healthy entries compared to the last 10 WHL champions who have entered the Memorial Cup.
Dante Hannoun was the Game 7 WHL final OT hero.
    Star right-winger Brett Leason 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.
    Overage star centre Noah Gregor was second in regular season scoring for the Raiders posting 43 goals and 45 assists for 88 points to go with a plus-49 rating.
    Prince Albert has a host of other forwards who can score at any time like Hannoun, Parker Kelly, Sean Montgomery, Cole Fonstad, Aliaksei Protas and Ozzy Wiesblatt.
    Captain Brayden Pachal put up the most points out of all the Raiders defenceman. The Estevan, Sask., product racked up 15 goals and 36 assists for 51 points.
    He topped the entire WHL in plus-minus with a plus-76 rating. Defensive partner Zack Hayes was second in the league in plus-minus with a plus-71 rating, while contributing three goals and 24 assists on the offensive end.
    The Raiders starting six on defence in Pachal, Hayes, Max Martin, Sergei Sapego, Jeremy Masella and Kaiden Guhle is one of the best in the CHL.
    Star netminder Ian Scott had a spectacular regular season posting a 38-8-3 record, a 1.83 goals against average, a .932 save percentage and a team record eight shutouts.
    The Raiders play a skilled game that has a physical edge, which sees the team throw a lot of big hits.
The Raiders want to enjoy lots of moments like these at the Memorial Cup.
    Of course, no win is a given at the Memorial Cup as the three other teams in the field are all good.
    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. They fell in the QMJHL final to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
    The Mooseheads will provide a stern first test for Prince Albert.
    The Raiders have the make up to win the Memorial Cup on their own merit, but they will likely be open to their fans bringing four leaf clovers or other good luck charms to game to combat the sour luck the WHL has had in recent times at this event.

Check for my Raiders article in the Memorial Cup program

    I don’t want to sound like I am high on myself, but you will be in for a treat when you buy a game program at the Memorial Cup.
    At this year’s Memorial Cup that starts on Friday and runs through to May 26 in Halifax, N.S., I had the honour of writing the feature story to preview the WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders. The article has already been featured online, but I am expecting the hard copy version to include a number of cool photos.
Raiders captain Brayden Pachal raises the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    The hard copy version will be laid out in sort of the style you would traditionally see in Sports Illustrated.
    This marks the second time I wrote a team preview story for the Memorial Cup program. Back in 2007 when the Memorial Cup was played in Vancouver, B.C., I wrote the preview story on the Medicine Hat Tigers, who were that year’s WHL champions, for the tournament’s game program.
    At that time, I was covering the Tigers as a beat writer for the Medicine Hat News.
    When it comes time to write these program articles, you have to do it in a quick turnaround time, and I was pleased with how my Raiders story turned out. You can check it out by clicking right here.
    I also wrote about Games 6 and 7 of the WHL final for The Canadian Press.
    If you want to read the Game 6 story about the Vancouver Giants downing the Raiders 4-2, you can do so by clicking here.
    If you want to read the Game 7 story about the Raiders downing the Giants 3-2 in overtime on Dante Hannoun’s winner, you can do so by clicking right here.

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