Aliaksei Protas’ red-hot play has given the Prince Albert Raiders the chance to play for the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the second time in team history.
The Belarusian forward recorded a hat trick for the second straight game Sunday as the Raiders picked up a 4-2 victory at Rogers Place and a 4-2 series triumph over the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL’s Eastern Conference final.
“I’m just trying to work hard and help my team,” Protas said. “It’s an even more unforgettable moment than Friday as (scoring) back-to-back hat tricks hasn’t happened to me in my life.”
“He’s been phenomenal,” Raiders defenceman and captain Brayden Pachal added. “There’s not much more you can say.”
With the win, the Raiders have earned a spot in the league championship series for the first time since winning the Memorial Cup in 1985, as they’ll open up a best-of-seven affair with the Vancouver Giants at the Art Hauser Centre Friday night.
“There are still two more trophies (the Ed Chynoweth Cup and the Memorial Cup) to go, but we aren’t thinking about that right now,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “We want the guys to enjoy the taste of winning and we’ll celebrate this for a day before we get ready to face Vancouver.
“I’ve known (Oil Kings head coach) Brad Lauer from when we played together in Vegas (in the International Hockey League) and he helped put together a really good team over there. They pushed us to a point that we needed to get to.”
After Trey Fix-Wolansky found the back of the net on a point shot midway through the opening frame, Protas put the Raiders in front 2-1 with a pair of goals in a 39-second span.
The first came on a top-shelf power play snipe that was similar to his opening goal on Friday, while the second occurred when he took advantage of a bad turnover by Oil Kings forward Josh Williams in his own end of the ice.
Noah Gregor would extend the lead with a power-play goal of his own with 2:02 left in the opening frame, but Fix-Wolansky would cut the lead back down to one in the second with a shorthanded goal.
Protas completed his three-goal afternoon on a breakaway a few minutes later as he moved into the WHL playoff scoring lead with his 11th marker of the post-season.
“I’ve been coaching long enough to know that when you are on a roll, you are on a roll,” Habscheid said. “If we started the series with Vancouver tomorrow, he might get three goals once again.
“He’s a smart player with a good shot and he’s just riding the wave right now. He’s helped our team quite a lot, and most importantly, he’s a good teammate.”
The Oil Kings peppered the Raiders net with 14 shots in the final period, but the closest they would come to scoring was at the halfway mark of the frame when Fix-Wolansky wired a shot off of the crossbar.
Sean Montgomery had a pair of assists in the win, which saw Ian Scott make 32 saves.
Dylan Myskiw stopped 20 shots for the Oil Kings, who got a pair of helpers from Quinn Benjafield.
Although there’s no in-game action for the Raiders until this weekend, it will still be a busy week for the team as the WHL Awards Banquet and Bantam Draft will be held in Red Deer on Wednesday and Thursday.
Tickets for the opening two games of the WHL final, which will take place on Friday and Saturday at the Art Hauser Centre, will go on sale Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. at the Raiders box office and at 10 a.m. online.
WHL Final Schedule
- Game 1: Friday, May 3 in Prince Albert – 7 p.m.
- Game 2: Saturday, May 4 in Prince Albert – 7 p.m.
- Game 3: Tuesday, May 7 in Langley – 8 p.m
- Game 4: Wednesday, May 8 in Langley – 8 p.m.
- Game 5: Friday, May 10 in Langley – 8:30 p.m.
- Game 6: Sunday, May 12 in Prince Albert – 6 p.m.
- Game 7: Monday, May 13 in Prince Albert – 7 p.m.
Prior to Aliaksei Protas’ showing over the weekend, Chris Dingman of the Brandon Wheat Kings was the last WHL player to score back-to-back playoff hat tricks as he accomplished that feat against the Raiders in Games 5 and 6 of the 1996 Eastern Conference final.
Protas also became the first Raiders player to score two hat tricks in a post-season since Steve Kelly did so in 1996.
Kelly found the net three times in a 7-1 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers in Game 5 of the opening round and matched that feat in a 8-5 triumph over the Regina Pats in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Sunday’s game marked the final WHL contest for Quinn Benjafield, Andrew Fyten and Vince Loschiavo, as all three Oil Kings forwards will be aging out of junior hockey.
It may have also marked the last time that Oil Kings captain Trey Fix-Wolansky will suit up for the team, as he’s a signed prospect of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Loeden Schaufler and Cole Nagy did not dress for the Raiders, while the Oil Kings scratched Logan Dowhaniuk, Jacson Alexander, Aidan Lawson, Keagan Slaney, Dylan Guenther, Jalen Luypen and Zach Russell.
- Halifax 2 Drummondville 1 (Halifax wins 4-2 and advances to first QMJHL final since 2013 – The Mooseheads win also assures the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies a spot at the Memorial Cup in Halifax – Xavier Parent Overtime Winner – Alexis Gravel – 33 Saves)
- Guelph 5 Saginaw 1 (Series tied 3-3 – Pavel Gogolev – Two Goals)
- Guelph vs. Saginaw (Game 7) – 5 p.m.