Saturday, 18 May 2019

Raiders watch party could be bigger after long weekend

Raiders fans watch their team intensely on a big screen.
    PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - A few hearty souls were able to hold off the allures of the lake to get together to support the Prince Albert Raiders.
    On Friday, about 150 people gathered at the Art Hauser Centre to watch the broadcast of the Raiders first game at the Memorial Cup tournament in Halifax, N.S., on a huge big screen television that was set up on the building’s drained ice surface. The club’s staff that remained in “Hockey Town North” to keep the home fires burning while the team participates in the CHL’s championship tournament helped set up the watch party.
    The gathering likely could have been bigger had it not been for the fact Friday was the start of the May long weekend.
    Driving to Prince Albert from Saskatoon, the intersection where Highway 11 turns north to Highway 2 at 5 p.m. on Friday was lined with about 45 vehicles, and most of those were haft-ton trucks pulling some sort of a camper unit. It was pretty obvious most of those vehicles were heading to the vast lake country north of Prince Albert.
    The watch party itself was still fairly fun. With Prince Albert being a small city with a population of about 36,000 people, most of the people at the gathering knew each other.
A couple of fans chuckle watching Friday’s Raiders game on a big screen.
    As the Raiders faced the host Halifax Mooseheads at the opening game of the Memorial Cup, the party at the Art Hauser Centre started with cheers, but quickly became silent as Halifax took a 2-0 first period lead.
    Applause would spark up a little any time Raiders star netminder Ian Scott made a big save.
    As the second period got underway, the cheers started up again along with chants of “go Raiders go.”
    The noise hit a peak when star overage centre Noah Gregor tipped home a point shot from offensive defenceman Max Martin at the 10:46 mark of the second period. That goal cut the Mooseheads lead to 2-1.
    For about the next 10 minutes in real time, you would have thought a Raiders game was happening live at the Art Hauser Centre.
    The excitement came to a halt when defenceman Jake Ryczek scored on the power play to give the Mooseheads a 3-1 advantage with 4:08 remaining in the second period.
    When Mooseheads centre Antoine Morand scored an empty-net goal with 1:53 remaining in the third, a number of people at the watch party started making their way to the exits and by the sounds of the chatter, most were heading to the lake country too.
    It hadn’t hit 8 p.m. in Prince Albert yet, so there was lots of time to commute.
    After the third period clock expired on a 4-1 victory for the Mooseheads, the rest of the fans in the building made their way to the exits.
    Again from the chatter, it sounded like the lake country was the next destination for most.
The Raiders up on the big screen on Friday.
    About five minutes after the game ended, the Art Hauser Centre was empty outside of rink staffers.
    While things didn’t go well for the Raiders on the scoreboard on Friday, those at the watch party enjoyed coming together as a community to watch the team from afar. As Friday’s game progressed, many said they would be back for Monday’s watch party, when the Raiders take on the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (5 p.m. Saskatchewan time, Sportsnet).
    If the Raiders advance to the Memorial Cup’s championship game on May 26, it is likely a lot more people will head to the Art Hauser Centre for that watch party.

Storm, Toropchenko impress in 5-2 win over Huskies

    The Guelph Storm announced their arrival at the Memorial Cup with an impressive statement win.
    The Ontario Hockey League champions faced the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who are the champions of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, on Saturday in the first game for both sides at the CHL championship tournament.
    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. They took the best-of-seven QMJHL final 4-2 against the Halifax Mooseheads.
    The Storm finished eighth overall in the OHL’s regular season with a 40-18-6-4 mark. Guelph went on a remarkable run in the OHL playoffs.
    The Storm 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 the Ottawa 67’s 2-0 before rallying for four straight wins to take the series 4-2.
    On paper, it appeared the Huskies would be favoured over the Storm, but the Storm players had other ideas. They skated to a 5-2 victory over the Huskies before 9,509 spectators at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, N.S.
    The Huskies took a 1-0 lead at the 2:17 mark of the first period on a goal from 19-year-old centre Vincent Marleau.
    At that point, the rest of the first period turned into the Alexey Toropchenko show. The Storm right-winger, who is from Moscow, Russia, evened things up at 1-1 scoring a short-handed goal off a Huskies own zone turnover with nine minutes to play in the first.
    With 6:53 remaining in the first, Toropchenko gathered a rebound of a shot taken by Storm defenceman Jack Hanley in front of the Huskies net to pot his second goal of the contest.
    Toropchenko completed his hat trick with 1:37 remaining in the opening frame, when he was sprung on a breakaway by Storm defenceman Sean Durzi on a stretch pass. On the breakaway, Toropchenko tucked a shot in between the legs of Huskies netminder Samuel Harvey.
    During the regular season, Toropchenko had 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points in 62 games. In the OHL playoffs, he netted 13 goals and six assists for 19 points in 24 games.
    MacKenzie Entwistle gave the Storm a 4-1 advantage at the 3:20 mark of the second.
    Jakub Lauko replied for the Huskies at the 11:16 mark of the second to cut the Storm lead to 4-2.
    With 44.3 seconds remaining in the second, Nick Suzuki scored for the Storm to round out the 5-2 victory.
    Anthony Popovich turned away 22 shots to take the win in goal for the Storm. Harvey turned away 24 shots to take the setback in goal for the Huskies.
    Harvey is one of three players the Huskies have on their roster from the last time they appeared in the Memorial Cup back in 2016 in Red Deer, Alta., along with centre Peter Abbandonato and defenceman Jacob Neveu. Neveu, who is an overager, was scratched on Saturday due to fracturing his jaw blocking a shot in Game 2 of the QMJHL final.
    The Huskies fell 3-2 in overtime in the title game at the 2016 Memorial Cup to the Knights. Matthew Tkachuk had the winner for the Knights.
    Action resumes at the Memorial Cup on Sunday when the host Halifax Mooseheads take on the Storm (5 p.m. Saskatchewan time, Sportsnet).

Dyck throws caution, notes good hand with Giants

Bowen Byram could be a key returnee to the Giants.
    The WHL Championship series will likely only be the beginning for the resurgent Vancouver Giants.
    On Monday, the Giants bowed out of the post-season falling 3-2 in overtime in Game 7 of the WHL final to the host Prince Albert Raiders at the Art Hauser Centre. 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.
Going into the current post-season, the Giants were in search of their first playoff series victory since 2010. 
    From 2011 to 2018 the Giants missed the playoffs four times and were eliminate in the first round in their four playoff appearances.
    Vancouver has the potential to return star offensive defenceman Bowen Byram and netminder Trent Miner as 18-year-olds. The Giants could have steady Dylan Plouffe on defence as an overager and Alex Kannok Leipert, Kalek Bulych and Seth Bafaro on the back end as 19-year-olds.
    Up front, Tristen Nielsen and import Yannik Valenti could be back as a 19-year-olds, Lukas Svejkovsky as an 18-year-old and Justin Sourdif as a 17-year-old.
    While Plouffe would seem to be a lock for one of the three overage spots, five forwards will be in the running for those spots in import Milos Roman, Owen Hardy, Dawson Holt, Jadon Joseph and Brayden Watts.
Lukas Svejkovsky will look to play a bigger role with the Giants.
    Defenceman Landon Fuller would be highly unlikely to be around to compete for an overage spot due to only playing 21 career regular season games in the WHL. Netminder David Tendeck could be an overager, but he is an NHL Entry Draft selection of the Arizona Coyotes and could be in their system.
    Michael Dyck will be in his second season guiding the Giants as head coach. He optimistic about next season throws caution to the win.
    The veteran bench boss said the team still has to wait to see who will be in their lineup and who might stick in the professional ranks.
    “We’ve got the building blocks in place,” said Dyck. “It is a new team, but certainly the building blocks are in place, but we will see what happens.
    “Obviously, Bowen Byram is going to be a high draft pick (in the NHL Entry Draft). We could have a bunch of guys drafted. That is our job is to develop guys to get them ready for the next level, but the building blocks are in place.
    “It is exciting.”
    Dyck praised the efforts of Giants outgoing 20-year-olds in captain Jared Dmytriw, winger Davis Kock and defenceman Dallas Hines for helping return the team to being one of the top clubs in the league.
    “For our 20-year-olds that are moving on, they left a legacy here,” said Dyck. “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.”

Raiders sign Crocker to players agreement

    While the Prince Albert Raiders are in Halifax, N.S., playing in the Memorial Cup, they locked up part of their future.
    On Thursday, the Raiders announced they signed forward Niall Crocker to a WHL Standard Players Agreement. The Raiders selected Crocker in the first round and 22nd overall in the WHL Bantam Draft held on May 2.
    Crocker, who will turn 15-years-old in late July, already stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 161 pounds.
    In 30 games with the Delta Hockey Academy Bantam Prep program, Crocker piled up 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points. He added two goals and an assist in three playoff games.
    Crocker is eligible to appear in five regular season games in 2019-20 with the Raiders as a 15-year-old.

Never say never again, back in the Daily Herald

One of my stories in the Daily Herald’s special section.
    If you checked out Friday’s edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald, you are in for a treat.
    The staff at the Daily Herald put together a special Prince Albert Raiders section due to the fact the team is playing in the Memorial Cup.
    I contributed three stories for the special section. Two stories revolved around the 1984-85 Raiders who won the WHL championship and the Memorial Cup.
    The third piece was my “More than just a hockey team” column on the Raiders.
    When I left the Daily Herald as a sports reporter back in September of 2004, I didn’t think I would ever have the chance to write for that publication again. I am happy I was wrong in this instance.
    I believe you can still purchase copies of Friday’s edition of the Daily Herald in Prince Albert, or pop by their office during office hours to pick up a copy.
    The staff there did a great job with the special section.
    Also of note, the Raiders captured the Memorial Cup 34 years ago today in 1985 with a 6-1 victory over the Shawinigan Cataractes, who were the tournament hosts.

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