Monday, 13 May 2019

Raiders in seventh WHL championship OT heaven

Hannoun hero in 3-2 extra time victory over Giants

Dante Hannoun (#17) reacts to scoring the OT winner for the Raiders.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - The only thing missing on this night was video of the late “Grandma Raider” saying, “Once a Raider always a Raider.”
    Calla Grasley must have been smiling down on her team from heaven.
    On Monday before a sellout crowd of 3,289 spectators at the 2,580 seat Art Hauser Centre, overage centre Dante Hannoun tapped in a backdoor feed from linemate Noah Gregor with 1:35 remaining in overtime to deliver the Prince Albert Raiders to a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants in Game 7 of the WHL Championship series.
    The contest was arguably the greatest game ever played at the Raiders storied home rink.
    With the win, the Raiders take the best-of-seven series 4-3, and they captured the Ed Chynoweth Cup as league champions.
The Raiders mob Dante Hannoun after he scored the WHL title OT winner.
    “Honestly, I blacked out,” said Hannoun about his OT winner. “It was Gregs (Gregor) who made an unbelievable feed to me backdoor.
    “I just tapped it in. Like I said, I blacked out. It was just slow motion. It was unbelievable.”
    The victory marks the first time the Raiders have won the WHL title since 1985.
    That year, the Raiders moved on to win the Memorial Cup under the guidance of then head coach and general manager Terry Simpson, who is a legend in Prince Albert hockey circles. The 1984-85 Raiders team featured the likes of Dan Hodgson, Dave Pasin, Emanuel Viveiros, Dave Manson and Ken Baumgartner.
    The current edition of the Raiders advance to this year’s Memorial Cup, which starts Friday and runs to May 26 in Halifax, N.S. 
The Raiders faithful erupts after Dante Hannoun’s OT winner.
    Prince Albert opens the tournament Friday against the host Mooseheads.
    Hannoun came to the Raiders in a trade in early January from the Victoria Royals. He was elated to score the overtime winner that gave the Raiders the WHL title, while playing in his final season of major junior eligibility.
    “I am just so grateful for this opportunity for the Prince Albert Raiders bringing me in here,” said Hannoun. “I’m so happy. I’m speechless right now.”
    Gregor was excited that he was able to set up the winner and that his team won the league title.
    “It feels pretty good,” said Gregor. “That moment that Hannoun was able to put that puck into the net, I kind of blacked out.
    “I just chased him down the ice. He was already at the other end of the ice before I could even look up, so it was pretty unreal. Overtime in Game 7, it doesn’t happen too often, so it was pretty amazing we were able to come out on the winning side.”
Dante Hannoun was a big trade addition for the Raiders.
    Monday’s game had various swings. Giants import centre Milos Roman scored at the 4:45 mark of the second to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
    Gregor brought the Art Hauser Centre faithful to life scoring with 5:05 remaining in the second to force 1-1 tie.
    At the 4:25 mark of the third, Gregor took a pass from import defenceman Sergei Sapego and sniped home a shot to give the Raiders a 2-1 lead.
    Just over four minutes later Roman scored for the Giants on the power play to tie things up at 2-2 and ultimately force overtime setting the stage for Hannoun to score his winner.
    Raiders star right-winger Brett Leason was pleased his club overcame the swings in momentum, and he was pumped when Hannoun scored the winner.
    “It was just pure joy and pure relief,” said Leason. “They battled.
    “They brought it to us. It was a hell of a game, and when that puck went in, the building erupted and so did the bench. It just went crazy here.”
Noah Gregor scored twice for the Raiders on Monday.
    Ian Scott, who has a signed NHL entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, made 24 saves in goal for the Raiders. David Tendeck turned away 37 shots to take the setback in goal for the Giants.
    Scott was named the MVP of the WHL playoffs. The Calgary, Alta., product 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.
    “It was pretty cool,” said Scott about the MVP. “I couldn’t have done it without this group of guys.”
    Scott was more pumped to win the WHL title for the people of Prince Albert and all the supporters of the Raiders.
    “The fan support through this whole playoffs is something I have never seen before,” said Scott. “They drive us a lot.
    “You could tell tonight just the way they were cheering that they fuel us.”
    Monday’s contest mark the first time the Raiders clinched a playoff series on home ice since 2005, when they defeated the Medicine Hat Tigers 3-0 in Game 6 of a second round series.
Giants C Milos Roman set to fire a shot past Raider D Sergei Sapego.
    Before Monday, the Raiders had clinched each of their three previous series wins in this year’s playoffs on the road.
    Actually, 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.
    Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said it was great the Raiders home crowd got to witness the spectacle that was Monday’s Game 7.
David Tendeck makes one of his 37 saves in goal for the Giants.
    He said he was proud of his players remembering how a couple of teams taunted the Raiders core two seasons ago, when the club was young and building.
    “We lost with class, and we won with class,” said Habscheid. “Now, these kids are champions, and it is something they can carry with them for the rest of their lives and good on them.
    “If these kids would have lost, it wouldn’t have been right. It wouldn’t have been right for what these guys have gone through the last two to three (years).”
    Habscheid said it was great to see overage centre Sean Montgomery become a WHL champion. Montgomery is a career member of the Raiders who has played a team record 345 regular season games with the club.
Raiders goalie Ian Scott (#33) stops Giants winger Davis Koch.
    “Look at Sean Montgomery and what he went through with the losing and the taunting,” said Habscheid. “If he would have lost today, it wouldn’t have been right.
    “I’m really happy for him.”
    Montgomery said it was surreal to see Hannoun score the overtime winner and realize the Raiders had won the league title.
    “It was just the best feeling of my life,” said Montgomery. “Skating down there and throwing all our stuff, it was unbelievable.
    “We’ve had some tough years, and to end it off on the most incredible year of my life, I can’t put it into words.”
Raiders fans cheer one of their team’s goals.
    During the WHL regular season, the Raiders and Giants were the circuit’s top two teams.
    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.
    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.
    The Raiders eliminated the Red Deer Rebels, Saskatoon Blades and Edmonton Oil Kings on their way to the WHL final.
    The Giants eliminated the Seattle Thunderbirds, Victoria Royals and Spokane Chiefs on their way to the WHL final.
The Raiders celebrate with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Vancouver last won the WHL title in 2006 and last won the Memorial Cup in 2007 as the host team.
    Before this year’s post-season, the Giants hadn’t won a playoff series since 2010. Giants head coach Michael Dyck was obviously disappointed his team couldn’t pull out the WHL final.
    Still, Dyck, who is in his first season guiding the Giants, noted not much was expected from his team at the start of the season, so he was really happy with what his club accomplished in 2018-19. He was pleased with how his club battled back from being down 3-1 in the series with the Raiders to force Game 7.
Sean Montgomery takes a spin with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
    Dyck said Vancouver’s overagers in captain Jared Dmytriw, winger Davis Koch and defenceman Dallas Hines contributed a lot to the squad.
    “I couldn’t be prouder of our group of guys right now,” said Dyck. “How far they came this season and the way they battled in this series and right through the playoffs, it is a reflection of the character of this group.
    “For our 20-year-olds that are moving on, they left a legacy here. They’ve been a huge part of the chance in the culture and winning some respect back. For our younger guys, what an experience it was for them and a foundation to build on.”
The Raiders are all smiles for the customary team photo.
    The QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the OHL champion Guelph Storm round out the field at this year’s Memorial Cup.
    While Monday’s WHL championship win was a high, Montgomery is looking forward to play more hockey at the Memorial Cup.
    “It is exciting,” said Montgomery. “We’re going to enjoy this for tonight, and then get ready to go.”

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