The best season in a generation for the Prince Albert Raiders came to an end Tuesday night in Halifax.
The 2019 Western Hockey League champions dropped a 5-2 decision to the Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm at Scotiabank Centre and will miss out on the playoffs at the Memorial Cup with an 0-3 record.
“It’s not the way that we wanted to finish the year for sure and I’m disappointed for the guys right now,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said. “You could tell though that the guys were gassed tonight. Their heart was in it and they gave everything that they could, but it just wasn’t there.
“As a whole though, I’m proud of the guys, the franchise and our city. No one picked us to be here at the start of the year. This was a group of guys that got laughed at three or four years ago and they stuck together.”
The Raiders, who were in their second tournament in franchise history and their first since winning it all in 1985, were tied up at two with the Storm after the first period as they tried to keep their playoff hopes alive.
However, the Storm took things over from there as Nick Suzuki had two goals and an assist to lead the way on offence, while Isaac Ratcliffe scored once and dished out two helpers.
Liam Hawel and Fedor Gordeev also scored in the triumph, which saw Sean Durzi dish out a pair of helpers and Anthony Popovich make 19 saves.
Brayden Pachal paced the Raiders offence with a pair of assists as helped to set up a pair of goals for overagers Dante Hannoun and Sean Montgomery.
Noah Gregor, who played in his final junior hockey game Tuesday along with Hannoun and Montgomery, had an assist in the loss, which saw Ian Scott turn aside 20 shots.
Tuesday’s contest was also more than likely the final one in a Raiders uniform for Scott and Parker Kelly, as they are expected to turn pro with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators organizations next season.
“All of the guys that were here are proud to be Raiders and they did a lot for this organization,” Habscheid said. “It’s okay to be a Raider again with what they did and we’re forever grateful for that.
“We got to this point and we didn’t ruin the franchise for the future as we only made the one trade at the deadline this year. We’ve kept things together for the next few seasons and it’s a great group of kids that we have here. They’ll forever be known as champions and they deserve it. ”
While the Raiders prepare to head back to Prince Albert, the 2-1 Storm are playing the waiting game for when it comes to their next opponent.
The 2-0 Halifax Mooseheads and the 1-1 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies will square off Wednesday in the final round-robin contest of the tournament, in what is a rematch of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final that the Huskies won in six games.
A Mooseheads win will assure them of a spot in Sunday’s final, while a Huskies triumph would lead to a three-way tie for first place at 2-1 and a tiebreaker formula would be put in place to determine the final standings.
The City of Prince Albert has plans to hold a parade in honour of the Raiders’ WHL championship season, but a date and time for that event was still to be finalized as the most recent city council meeting was taking place during Tuesday’s game against the Storm.
The last four Ed Chynoweth Cup title holders have combined to go 0-12 at the Memorial Cup, as the Raiders join the 2016 Brandon Wheat Kings, the 2017 Seattle Thunderbirds and the 2018 Swift Current Broncos among the clubs who were unable to earn a victory at the CHL’s marquee event.
The last WHL champion to win a game at the tournament was the 2015 Kelowna Rockets, who picked up a 9-3 victory in the semifinal over the host Quebec Remparts before losing 2-1 in overtime to the Oshawa Generals in the championship contest.
The Raiders, who hadn’t lost three games in a row all season until Tuesday, were led in scoring at the tournament by Noah Gregor with five points.
Cole Fonstad and Brayden Pachal had three points each, while Max Martin had a pair of helpers.