Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Giant Leap Forward

One team has owned the Western Hockey League all season long, even before playoffs: the Prince Albert Raiders. En route to the WHL Championship, they earned the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for best league record, the East Division and Eastern Conference titles. The Raiders have played like an NHL team all season long. Very little has stopped or even slowed them down. The Raiders were leading the Vancouver Giants 3-1 going into Game 5. The easy prediction was to give Prince Albert the edge. If it were easy, it wouldn't be any fun. 

Home ice advantage: The series opened in Prince Albert to a sellout crowd. Some fans had gotten up at 5 am to wait in line for the best seats in the house. On the surface, the Raiders had the advantage, but game preview stats showed that both teams were equally matched. Look closely and it was the Vancouver Giants who had the better power play percentage on the road: 46.7 percent to the Raiders' 24 percent. Couple that with the Raiders' physical and fearless style of play that sometimes puts them in the penalty box, and the final score of Giants 5, Raiders 4 makes sense. The Giants scored early on the power play and struck again on the power play late in the second. The game winner came just fourteen seconds later but like I said, the Prince Albert Raiders don't stay down for long: 

Dante's Inferno: Looking back now, the Giants didn't really stand much of a chance in Game 2. The Raiders came out swinging with a goal from Dante Hannoun. He assisted on goals two and three, earning the First Star of the Night. Overager Noah Gregor, top 2019 draft prospect Brett Leason and import defenseman Sergei Sapego each added one for a shutout. Hannoun earned WHL Player of the Week honors for the second time in playoffs. His stats heading into Game 3 were already impressive: 20 points in 18 games including, one power-play goal, two short-handed goals and three game winning goals. Why stop there?

Third time's a charm: There's only one thing more staggering than the Raiders' 8-2 win over the Giants in Game 3; seven of those goals were scored in the first period. On average that's a goal ever three minutes, which is pretty much what happened. As if that wasn't painful enough for Giants fans, the game was played in Vancouver. I've lived in Portland off and on since high school and that game was by far the most insane thing I've seen in my day. Leason had two goals and two assists, earning First Star of the Night. You've heard the hype about him. I assure you it's real. Hannoun added a goal and an assist to his tally for the Second Star and Parker Kelly rounded out the Three Stars with two goals. Honorable mention to overager Sean Montgomery, who had two assists. 

Back-up plan: Game 4 was a straight up goaltending show, with the Giants holding the Raiders to just one goal. Brett Leason did get one by David Tendeck, but it took until the 4:21 mark of the third period. It would stand as the lone goal in the shutout of the Giants. It's rare you see two goalies in the Three Stars presentation. They deserved it in this case. Raiders goalie Ian Scott stopped all 36 of the Giants' shots and Tendeck stopped 20 of 21 from the Raiders. 

Turnabout's fair play: The Vancouver Giants were not the odds-on favorite going into the championship series, but you have to give them credit for suprising everyone with the two victories they have claimed so far. Just when it looked like the Raiders would wrap things up with the greatest of ease, the Giants fought back with a Game 5 victory. Top draft prospect Bowen Byram is a big reason why. Ranked second on the final 2019 draft rankings, Byram is already a big name here in the Dub. He had a goal and an assist in the 4-3 win, earning the First Star of the Night. I've watched him play up close and in person all season and yes, he's really that good. Top prospects already play like they are already in the NHL and Byram is no exception. 

Lucky number seven: Game 6 is tonight in Prince Albert. Resilience has been the Raiders' signature move all season long, and something tells me tonight will be epic. If the Giants take another leap forward, this series could go to Game 7. The winner punches their ticket to the Memorial Cup, which begins May 17 in Halifax. WHL teams have a recent history of making it all the way to the season's ultimate tournament, only to fall to the more elite teams in the OHL and QMJHL. I would like to see our representative go all the way this year. Of the two teams left standing, the Raiders have the better shot at it. Their experience, resilience and focus on the long game drove them all season and it has put them on the edge of a WHL title. The home team has the edge tonight, but the Giants have the momentum of their underdog victory. If I were a bettin' girl, I'd still put my money on the Prince Albert Raiders. Looking at their season as a whole, it's their turn this year. It's time for them to take it.

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com