Fans bid farewell to WHL champion Raiders

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Ozzy Wiesblatt, Brayden Pachal and Sean Montgomery sign autographs during the Prince Albert Raiders year-end celebration at the Art Hauser Centre Thursday.

The best team in the Western Hockey League in 2019 had one last meeting with their fans before they parted ways.

The Prince Albert Raiders held a year-end celebration Thursday at the Art Hauser Centre, which included an autograph session and the chance to get a photo with the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Raiders forward and assistant captain Parker Kelly said.

“You don’t really know how lucky you are until you see the fans coming out to see you, even after a long day at work. It’s pretty special and something I’ll remember forever.”

For overager and assistant captain Sean Montgomery, who set the all time games played record for the Raiders this year with 345 appearances, the support from the fans meant a lot as the team won their first playoff series since 2005 on their way to their second title in franchise history.

“We had a couple of tough years recently, but that makes it feel even better,” Montgomery said.

“This is something that we’ve all worked really hard for and we’re proud of what we accomplished.”

One of the most popular players during Thursday’s event was overager Dante Hannoun, who signed a few tickets from last Monday’s Game 7 where he scored the overtime winning goal against the Vancouver Giants.

“There’s been a few people who have come up to me and said where they were when the goal was scored,” Hannoun smiled.

“When you are in this league, the years go by quicker and quicker, but this season has been one I’ll remember for a long time.”

Fellow overager Noah Gregor, who made the pass to Hannoun on the overtime winning goal, also got to end his major junior career on a high note and got to experience the support of Raiders fans after being a thorn in their side during his time with the Moose Jaw Warriors.

“I could tell during our series back in 2016 that the fan support was great here, but they really took it to another level this season,” Gregor said. “They were ready to blow the roof off of this place during the final.

“As a player, you come in with the goal to win a league championship and to be able to do it in my last year and help bring a championship back to Prince Albert is pretty special.”

Although the Memorial Cup ended earlier than they would have liked, Gregor and Kelly plan to take that experience towards next season as they join the San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators organizations.

“When you get to that tournament, you are going against the best of the best in junior hockey,” Kelly said. “There are guys that played at the World Juniors and high NHL draft picks, so you try to take as much as you can from playing them and it’s also a good measuring stick to see you where you fit in.”

“A lot of teams want guys that have that experience of winning championships and playing in major events,” Gregor added. “To be able to put that on our resumes is huge.”

As for Hannoun and Montgomery, their next destination is unknown at this point.

Both players will take some time to relax and reflect on the past season before determining where they will continue their hockey careers.