Fans of the Prince Albert Raiders and Saskatoon Blades have been waiting for a long time for their teams to have a legitimate shot at the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
In order for the Raiders to make the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 2005 and for the Blades to reach the final four after a 25-year hiatus, the rivals will have to go through each other.
The top two teams in the East Division will open up their seven game Eastern Conference semi-final matchup at a sold out Art Hauser Centre Friday at 7 p.m., in a contest that will also be broadcast nationally on Sportsnet 360.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Raiders forward Cole Fonstad said. “When the Art Hauser Centre is packed, I don’t think there’s a better rink to play in with how passionate the fans are.”
“I think the crowds at both rinks are going to make for an incredible atmosphere,” Blades captain Chase Wouters added. “There’s a lot of excitement building here in Saskatoon, especially with more and more people coming to the games lately.”
The Raiders are coming off a clean sweep of the Red Deer Rebels in the first round, with their last game coming on Wednesday, March 27 with a 4-1 win in Red Deer.
“We were pretty antsy to get back out there after a few days off, especially as we knew that we would be playing Saskatoon,” Raiders captain Brayden Pachal said.
“We didn’t give Red Deer much to work with, especially in our end. (Goaltender) Ian (Scott) was phenomenal and we kept up our level of intensity in all four games.”
The Blades have also been off for the same amount of time as they picked up a 4-3 overtime triumph over the host Moose Jaw Warriors to win their first round series in four straight games.
“It was good to have that break after some big games at the end of the regular season with Moose Jaw and Prince Albert ahead of that series with the Warriors, but we’re all pretty eager to get things going again,” Blades forward Max Gerlach said.
“Even though the Blades haven’t been to the playoffs in a few years, a lot of guys on our team have been in big post-season games during their careers, which I think was a big thing for us when we were in those overtime games against Moose Jaw.”
Although the Raiders held a 6-2 advantage in the regular season against the Blades, neither side is expecting this playoff matchup to end quickly.
“Saskatoon’s been great in the second half and they are a multi-dimensional team,” Fonstad said. “I feel like both teams are similar as we can each play different styles and we both have lots of depth. It should be a good test for both teams.”
“I think the biggest key in this series is to make sure that we are staying calm out there, especially with how much both barns are going to be rocking,” Gerlach added. “There’s going to be times where things aren’t going either team’s way but you need to stay even-keeled if you want to come away with a win.”
The archrivals last met up in the playoffs in 2011, as the Blades won an opening round matchup in six games in what was the franchise’s last post-season series victory until last week.
The Raiders last defeated the Blades in the playoffs in 2005 with a clean sweep in the first round.
Following Friday’s opener, the two sides will square off again Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre, with the third game in the series taking place in Saskatoon at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Both of those contests will be aired nationally on Sportsnet.
The SaskTel Center will host Game 4 Wednesday at 7 p.m., while a fifth game would take place at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday, April 12 at 7 p.m.
A sixth game, if necessary, is slated to be held in Saskatoon at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 14.
The seventh and deciding contest, if required, is set for Tuesday, April 16 at 7 p.m. in Prince Albert.
Friday will also mark the start of one other three quarter-final matchups in the WHL as the Victoria Royals will visit the Vancouver Giants.
The other quarter-final series will begin Saturday as the Calgary Hitmen will take on the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Spokane Chiefs will square off with the Everett Silvertips.