For the first time since 2014, the Western Hockey League final will be decided in a seventh game.
With a 4-2 road win over the Prince Albert Raiders Sunday, the Vancouver Giants evened up the series at three games apiece and have forced a winner-take-all contest at 7 p.m. Monday at the Art Hauser Centre for the Ed Chynoweth Cup and a spot at the Memorial Cup in Halifax.
“It’s a situation that you dream about as a kid,” Raiders forward Parker Kelly said. “There’s nothing better than this and the boys will be ready for it.”
“It’s exciting,” Giants forward and team captain Jared Dmytriw added. “Both teams are going to be amped up for this one. It’s doesn’t matter how we got here. It comes down to one game.”
Dmytriw scored what proved to be the game-winning goal for his team at the 3:40 mark of the third period as he banged a rebound past Ian Scott to give the Giants a 3-2 lead.
“Lukas (Svejkovsky) got the puck on the half wall there and he was able to direct it on net,” Dmytriw said. “The puck was able to squirt out to me in the slot and I was able to put home the rebound.
“It was an unbelievable feeling to help our team get the lead back and we were able to lock things down in the final minutes.”
Although the Raiders had a number of chances in the final frame, including a tip-in from Kelly that was turned aside at the last second by David Tendeck, the hosts couldn’t force an extra frame as Davis Koch scored on an empty net 14.2 seconds to go.
“Our forecheck was good tonight but it comes down to us burying our chances,” Kelly said. “I thought we played alright, but like Coach (Marc Habscheid) said, it just came down to a couple of missed assignments on our end of things.”
Kelly had both goals for the Raiders as he found the back of the net just 53 seconds into the first period and with 32.2 seconds left in the opening frame.
Scott made 23 saves during the contest, with his best work coming on a Giants power play during the second period as he made a number of key stops.
Koch had a pair of goals in the triumph for the visitors, while Dmytriw had a goal and an assist each.
Owen Hardy had the other marker for the Giants, who receive a 36-save showing from Tendeck.
“He’s another guy on our team who has an excellent level of composure out there,” Giants head coach Michael Dyck said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s David or Trent (Miner) that’s in net for us, we have a lot of confidence in our goalies.”
The Giants have a chance to accomplish what no team has done since 1981 on Monday night, as the Victoria Cougars are the only club in WHL history to erase a 3-1 deficit to win the league championship, which they did against the Calgary Wranglers.
They would also be just the second team to win the seventh and deciding game of the league championship on the road, as the Edmonton Oil Kings became the first side to do that in 2014 against the Portland Winterhawks.
“We didn’t think about winning three games,” Dyck said. “We just wanted to win one game so we had the chance to come back here and we’ve just kept moving forward from there.”
Meanwhile, the Raiders will look to channel the spirit of the 1992 and 1994 Kamloops Blazers, who coughed up 3-1 series leads to the Saskatoon Blades before coming away with the league title on home ice.
“This is something we’ve worked towards all year,” Habscheid said. “We have home ice, we like our crowd and we like our team. We’ll be fine.”
No matter who captures their second league championship on Monday night, their next game will be on Friday at the Memorial Cup against the tournament host Mooseheads.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm will also be at the event.
Monday’s contest will mark the 12th time that the Western Hockey League championship has been decided in a seventh game.
The other 11 contests went as follows (information on these games are courtesy of Gregg Drinnan and Dean “Scooter” Vrooman):
- 1975: New Westminster Bruins over Saskatoon Blades (7-2)
- 1976: New Westminster Bruins over Saskatoon Blades (3-1)
- 1981: Victoria Cougars over Calgary Wranglers (4-2)
- 1984: Kamloops Blazers over Regina Pats (4-2)
- 1987: Medicine Hat Tigers over Portland Winterhawks (6-2)
- 1992: Kamloops Blazers over Saskatoon Blades (8-0)
- 1993: Swift Current Broncos over Portland Winterhawks (6-0)
- 1994: Kamloops Blazers over Saskatoon Blades (8-1)
- 2007: Medicine Hat Tigers over Vancouver Giants (3-2 – Double OT)
- 2012: Edmonton Oil Kings over Portland Winterhawks (4-1)
- 2014: Edmonton Oil Kings over Portland Winterhawks (4-2)
Only one other series went the distance in WHL this year as the Calgary Hitmen picked up a 4-2 win over the host Lethbridge Hurricanes in the deciding game of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series on April 2.
The Raiders have gone 2-5 in Game 7’s since joining the WHL, with their two wins coming against the Regina Pats in the 1990 and 1996 quarter-finals.
The Giants are 1-2 in Game 7’s in their history, with their only triumph coming over the Spokane Chiefs in the 2009 quarter-final.
Brett Leason’s eight-game point streak came to an end Sunday, but his teammate Aliaksei Protas had an assist to tie him for the longest run of form in this year’s playoffs.
Loeden Schaufler was the lone scratch for the Raiders, while the Giants did not dress Landon Fuller, Nicholas Draffin, Tyler Ho and Aidan Barfoot.
- Guelph 8 Ottawa 3 (Guelph wins 4-2 to capture their fourth OHL title and their first since 2014 – Isaac Ratcliffe – Two Goals and Two Assists – Nick Suzuki (16 goals and 26 assists in 24 games) was named playoff MVP)
- Rouyn-Noranda 4 Halifax 0 (Rouyn-Noranda wins 4-2 to capture their second QMJHL title and their first since 2016 – Rafael Harvey-Pinard – Two Goals – Samuel Harvey – 28 Saves – Fifth Career Playoff Shutout and Fourth This Year – Noah Dobson (Eight goals and 21 assists in 20 games) was named playoff MVP)
- Vancouver vs. Prince Albert (Game 7) – 7 p.m.