Protas still missed in “Hockey Town North”

Aliaksei Protas will always be a favourite and a hero in “Hockey Town North.”
In two seasons from 2018 to 2020, Protas left an unforgettable mark playing for the Prince Albert Raiders appearing in 119 regular season games posting 42 goals, 78 assists and a plus-61 rating in the plus-minus department. He showed how much import players can be taken into the hearts of a fanbase of a WHL community, which included picking up the nickname “The Viper of Vitebsk” during his time in P.A.
As a 17-year-old rookie in 2018-19, Protas, who is from Vitebsk, Belarus, appeared in 61 regular season games collecting 11 goals, 29 assists and a plus-24 rating. Raiders fans were drawn towards the good-natured forward that stood 6-foot-6 and weighed in at 210 pounds.
His fan favourite status skyrocketed to hockey cult hero level during the 2019 WHL playoffs. In the Raiders march to winning the WHL Championship, Protas broke out to another level collecting 12 goals, 10 assists and a plus-12 rating appearing in all 23 of his team’s games in the WHL post-season.
The skilled centre had an impressive follow up 18-year-old sophomore season in 2019-20 leading the Raiders in scoring piling up 31 goals, 49 assists and a plus-37 rating in 58 games. The Raiders won the WHL’s East Division title.
They never got to find out just how good that campaign could have been as the tail end of the regular season and the post-season was nixed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world.
In March of 2020, no one envisioned Protas would never suit up for the Raiders again. When the Raiders played an abbreviated 24-game regular season in a bubble environment in Regina, Protas remained mainly at home in Belarus playing on loan for HC Dinamo Minsk of the KHL.
Raiders fans tracked Protas online as he appeared in 58 regular season games posting 10 goals and eight assists. He helped HC Dinoma Minsk win the Belarusian Cup as the national champions of Belarus.
With the NHL playing more of a normal schedule this season, Protas got to more seriously pursue making the Washington Capitals, who selected him in the third round and 91st overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
So far this season, Protas has appeared in 33 regular season games with the Capitals collecting three goals, six assists and a plus-four rating. Last Friday, he was reassigned to the Capitals AHL affiliate the Hersey Bears.
Raiders fans have still been following Protas’ time in the Capitals system and celebrating the high points like his first NHL goal. Protas proved import players can leave enduring legacies in the WHL communities they play in even if they are just there for a couple of seasons.
Lowly Chiefs end Winterhawks monster streak, other notes
The Portland Winterhawks had a monster success streak going that was brought to an end by the lowly Spokane Chiefs.
Last Saturday, the host Chiefs downed the visiting Winterhawks 3-2 at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. That brought an end to an 11-game winning streak by the Winterhawks.
The Chiefs win also halted the Winterhawks streak of getting at least one standings point in 18 straight games. During that streak, the Winterhawks posted 17 wins and lost one contest after a tiebreaking shootout.
Going into Tuesday’s action where the Winterhawks and Chiefs are slated to meet again in Spokane, the Winterhawks sat third overall in the Western Conference with a 29-12-3-2 record, while the Chiefs were second last in the conference with a 13-27-3-1 mark.
While the Winterhawks had an impressive run, their setback to the Chiefs is a reminder that teams near the top of the standings aren’t automatically given a pass when it comes to beating clubs near the bottom of the standings.
Saskatoon Blades veteran left-winger Kyle Crnkovic leads the WHL in scoring with 69 points coming on 30 goals and 39 assists. The last Blades player to win the WHL scoring title was centre Mark Deyell back in the 1995-96 campaign. Deyell had 159 points coming on 61 goals and 98 assists appearing in 69 regular season games in that campaign for the Blades.
Since being acquired in a trade with the Prince George Cougars late this past December, overage netminder Taylor Gauthier has won his first 10 starts with the Winterhawks posting a 1.29 goals against average, a .955 save percentage and three shutouts. He seems set to finish his WHL career playing at an on fire level.
Olen Zellweger of the Everett Silvertips leads the WHL in scoring by a defenceman going into action on Tuesday. The 18-year-old has 48 points coming on 10 goals and 38 assists in 35 appearances with the Silvertips. Zellweger has a plus-38 rating to go with his point totals as well.
The NHL’s Edmonton Oilers won their first two games with Dave Manson behind the bench as an assistant coach and gave up only one goal in the process. The Oilers picked up their first shutout win of the season on Monday blanking the Sharks in San Jose 3-0. For those in Prince Albert that have seen Manson coach the Raiders back end as an assistant and associate coach in the 2000s and 2010s, the Oilers immediate statistical improvement won’t come as a surprise. Manson has a vast base of knowledge to pass on playing for the Raiders from 1982 to 1986 and 1,103 career regular season games in the NHL from 1986 to 2002.
Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at stankssermon.blogspot.com, where he covers the Saskatoon Hilltops, Saskatoon Valkyries, University of Saskatchewan men’s and women’s hockey, U Sports football and Saskatchewan Female U18 AAA Hockey. He has the distinction of being in the building both times Game Seven of the WHL final went to overtime, including 2019 in Prince Albert.

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