Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Raiders return to Prince Albert to heroes’ welcome

Dante Hannoun meets the Raiders faithful on Wednesday.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. – If the Prince Albert Raiders had any doubts about how special their season was, those doubts were erased upon arriving home at the Art Hauser Centre.
    The Raiders were eliminated from the Memorial Cup tournament in Halifax, N.S., on Tuesday falling 5-2 to the OHL champion Guelph Storm. Prince Albert finished round robin play winless at 0-3.
    On Wednesday afternoon, the Raiders returned to Prince Albert, and when their team bus arrived at their home rink, they received a heroes’ welcome from about 200 supporters.
Fans started to assemble 50 minutes before the Raiders bus arrived.
    People started gathering at the rink at 1:30 p.m. a good 50 minutes before the team bus arrived around 2:20 p.m.
    When the bus turned on to the street that leads to the Art Hauser Centre, it stopped allowing the Raiders players and staff to get out. They approached the throng of fans, who formed two lines providing a lane for the players to walk through.
    As the players walked down the aisle, they gave the fans on either side high-fives. During the WHL playoffs, this scene became a common sight starting in the second round when the club returned from the road. Twice this scene happened after series wins on the road.
Fans wait at the Art Hauser Centre for the Raiders bus to arrive.
    The Raiders had a memorable post-season winning the WHL title for the first time since 1985. The WHL championship series clinching win came in Prince Albert on May 13, when Dante Hannoun scored the overtime winner to deliver the Raiders to a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants in Game 7 of the league final.
    A rally is scheduled for the team on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.
    Raiders captain Brayden Pachal said seeing the fans waiting for the team bus to arrive home on Wednesday helped lift the spirits of the players. He said it eased some of the sting of being eliminated from CHL championship tournament.
    “It was pretty cool,” said Pachal. “They supported us all playoffs.
    “We’re looking to celebrate our WHL championship with them tomorrow.”
Fans start lining the roadway to greet the Raiders.
    Hannoun, who has exhausted his junior eligibility, said the homecoming rallies of fans waiting for the team bus throughout the playoffs will always be a cherished memory. The Delta, B.C., proud was proud his club was able to win the WHL title for the fans.
    “Obviously, it is pretty special the community behind us,” said Hannoun. “It is a lot of people.
    “They bring out so much support, and we’re just happy that we pulled this off for them. We fell a little short (at Memorial Cup).”
    Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid had a huge smile on his face when he saw the gather of fans at the team’s home rink waiting for the bus.
Joy ensues when the Raiders’ bus arrives.
    “It is nice,” said Habscheid. “They care about the team and care about the kids and that is a good thing.
    “They just wanted to be here on their arrival, so it says a lot about the support that we’ve had.”
    After a 13-year period that saw the team miss the playoffs seven times and be eliminated in the first round of the post-season six times, the Raiders had a dream year 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. In the playoffs, the Raiders proceeded to win Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions taking out the Red Deer Rebels, Saskatoon Blades, Edmonton Oil Kings and Giants on their playoff march.
Fans cheer the arrival of the Raiders.
    The last time the Raiders achieved both those feats came back in the 1984-85 campaign, when they posted a regular season record of 58 wins, 11 losses and three ties to finish first in the WHL. Prince Albert proceeded to win the Memorial Cup that season, which the club wasn’t able to pull off this season.
    Overall, the WHL champion team has lost its last 13 straight games at the Memorial Cup tournament.
    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.
A group of fans cheer the arrival of the Raiders.
    “It is tough,” said Pachal. “Obviously, we didn’t get the results that we wanted in Halifax.
    “I’m proud of the guys. We accomplished something that hasn’t been done in P.A. for a long time. We put small marked P.A. back on the map where it should be.
    “I’m really proud of what we accomplished. We just have to celebrate what we did accomplish.”
    Habscheid, who coached the Kelowna Rockets to a WHL title in 2003 and a Memorial Cup championship as the host squad in 2004, isn’t reading anything extra into fact the WHL champion club has currently lost 13 games in a row at the event that determines the CHL champion.
The Raiders players start giving the fans high-fives.
    “That doesn’t enter into the equation,” said Habscheid. “I look at our tournament the first game against Halifax was almost unfair.
    “The second game we should have won. Last night, were gassed, so that is the way I look at it. Those teams before, we had nothing to do with that.”
    Prince Albert fell 4-1 to the host Halifax Mooseheads in the event’s opening game last Friday. The Raiders were taking the ice in just their second full day in Halifax after traveling there from Prince Albert and four days after winning the WHL final.
    On Monday, the Raiders fell 6-3 to the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. That contest was tied 3-3 late in the third period before Prince Albert fell victim to two bad bounce goals.
Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid meets the fans.
    In the loss to the Storm, the Raiders found themselves often chasing the play winning only 18 of 59 faceoffs.
    Habscheid said the players on the Raiders mean a lot to him, which caused him to be emotional in the post-game press conference on Tuesday.
    In that conference, he talked about how those with the team had to be there for each other to deal with deaths that affected the club.
    On April 6, 2018, Raiders prospect and defenceman Adam Herold passed away in the bus crash involving the junior A Humboldt Broncos.
A couple of Raiders players hug a billet mom.
    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.
    “It is difficult,” said Habscheid. “I kind of expressed it there in my post-game.
    “It is difficult, because a lot of these guys have seen the worst of it and seen the best of it. To win the league championship in dramatic fashion the way we did was sure nice even though it would be nice finishing the year with your last game being a win.
The fans give the Raiders a big ovation.
    “You take it for what it is, and the league championship is pretty special.”
    Pachal believes everyone on the current Raiders will remain close to each other as the years and decades go by.
    “The bond of champions is something is something you can’t break,” said Pachal. “We’re going to remember this for the rest of our lives.
    “We’re going to be super close for the rest of our lives. Obviously, we are going to celebrate this time together until we go back home.”

Mooseheads fall to Huskies, make Memorial Cup title game

    It was a defeat that felt like victory for the Halifax Mooseheads.
    On Wednesday in the final round robin game of the Memorial Cup tournament, the host Mooseheads fell 4-3 to the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies before 10,004 spectators at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, N.S., but the Mooseheads still advanced to Sunday’s title game.
    Wednesday’s contest was tied 3-3 until left-winger Jakub Lauko netted the winner with 54.5 seconds remaining in the third period for the Huskies.
    The result left the Mooseheads, Huskies and OHL champion Guelph Storm all deadlock in the standings with 2-1 records in the four-team tourney. The WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders were eliminated from the playoff round finishing 0-3 in round robin play.
    A goals for and against mathematical formula involving the three teams tied in the standings placed the Mooseheads and Storm ahead of the Huskies. The Mooseheads were subsequently awarded first place when their head-to-head victory over the Storm was taken into account.
    The Storm placed second ahead of the Huskies, and those two clubs will face each other in Friday’s semifinal game.
    In Wednesday’s clash between the Mooseheads and the Huskies, the Huskies took a 2-0 lead after the first period. The Mooseheads scored the only three goals in the second period to go ahead 3-2.
    The Huskies responded with two goals in the third including Lauko’s winner.
    Felix Bibeau, Joel Teasdale and William Rouleau had singles for the Huskies. Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Arnaud Durandeau and Antoine Morand replied with singles for the Mooseheads.
    Samuel Harvey stopped 24 shots to pick up the win in goal for the Huskies. Alexis Gravel turned away 36 shots to take the setback in goal for the Mooseheads.
    The Huskies and Mooseheads faced each other in the best-of-seven QMJHL final, where the Huskies captured the series in six games.

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