by Darren Zary, Saskatoon StarPhoenix
PRINCE ALBERT — WHL championship final. Seventh game. Overtime.
Does it get much better than this?
“Yes it does,” promised Prince Albert Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid. “In about two weeks.”
Habscheid and the Raiders are probably just glad this series is finally — we mean, finally — over.
After staking out a 3-1 series lead in this best-of-seven Western Hockey League championship final, the Eastern Conference champion Raiders needed all three of its tries to clinch a 2019 Western Hockey League championship title against the Western Conference champion Vancouver Giants.
As it turns out, third time’s the charm.
If, at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again.
After coming up short in the previous two games, the hometown Raiders finally took care of the pesky Giants with a 3-2 overtime victory here Monday night in Game 7.
The long-waited win came before a packed Art Hauser Centre filled with 3,289 screaming patrons, many of them perched on stools and milk crates in the standing room area.
Prince Albert now advances to the 2019 Memorial Cup championship as the WHL representative. That tournament begins Friday in Halifax, N.S., when the Raiders meet the host Halifax Mooseheads.
Dante Hannoun scored the WHL championship series winner Monday at 18:25 of OT to give the Raiders only their second-ever WHL title.
“I think I blacked out a little bit,” said Hannoun, who was acquired from the Victoria Royals prior to the WHL trade deadline.
“Gregs (Gregor) came down and he had a little lane to me back door. After that, I blacked out. It was slow motion. It was unbelievable.”
What an unbelievable series it was.
And what an unbelievable game was Game 7.
“You dream about this every night when you’re a kid,” said Hannoun. “It’s probably the best scenario. Game 7. Overtime. There’s nothing else that could have made it better.
“I’m pretty grateful to have this opportunity.”
Opportunity was knocking on both doors Monday.
Milos Roman opened the scoring at 4:45 of the second period to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. It was a backdoor play as Roman finished off a pass from Justin Sourdif.
Noah Gregor knotted things up for the Raiders, weaving his way into the high slot before sending a shot through traffic and past Vancouver goalie David Tendeck.
Gregor then added the go-ahead goal with his second tally, this one coming at 4:25 of the third.
Roman answered with his second goal of the night, on the power play at 8:30, to even the score at 2-2.
The Raiders had numerous quality scoring chances in the final minutes of the third but couldn’t find the back of the net. Brett Leason was in tight and slid the puck through the crease behind Tendeck. Cole Fonstad was in all alone and Zack Hayes, all alone in the high slot, had a great look but missed the net.
Prince Albert out-shot Vancouver 40-26.
Raiders goalie Ian Scott, who made 24 saves Monday, was named the WHL playoff MVP.
“We knew we had a job to do — it was going to come and we just had to keep going,” said Scott. “We came into the season wanting to go there (Halifax) and now we have our chance.”
Monday’s Game 7 between the Raiders and Giants marked the 12th time in league history that the WHL final was decided in a seventh game.
“It’s a pretty amazing feeling,” said Gregor, who was clutch throughout the WHL playoffs. “Overtime. Game 7. A pretty crazy game. I’m just so happy we were able to find a way to battle it out and win a championship. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
The Raiders won their one and only Memorial Cup in 1985 after racking four previous national junior A championship titles during a six-year span from 1977-1982.
Prince Albert defeated the Shawinigan Cataractes 6-2 in that 1985 final. The team featured the likes of Dan Hodgson, Dave Pasin, Pat Elynuik. Dave Manson, Ken Baumgartner, Dave Goertz, Tony Grenier and Emanuel Viveiros.
Vancouver last won the WHL championship title in 2006, claiming the President’s Cup (now the Ed Chynoweth Cup) that year. The Giants won their one and only Memorial Cup in 2007 as the host team.
SASKATCHEWAN HOCKEY ROOTS ON GIANTS
The Giants roster featured four players from Saskatchewan, including Saskatoon native and former midget AAA Contact Dawson Holt, captain Jared Dmytriw of Craven, assistant captain Alex Kannok Leipert and fellow D-man Kaleb Bulych.
Also on Vancouver’s roster is former Saskatoon Blades defenceman Seth Bafaro, who was acquired from the Blades earlier this season in exchange for a fifth round draft pick in 2021.