Prince Albert Raiders overage forward Noah Gregor has seen a lot in his Western Hockey League career.
However, the San Jose Sharks prospect is about to embark on a new journey as he and his teammates go up against the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Eastern Conference final.
“This is uncharted territory for all of us,” Gregor said prior to Friday’s series opener at the Art Hauser Centre, which gets underway at 7 p.m.
“We have a veteran team and we have a lot of games in the playoffs, so we can carry that experience over. It’s a pretty special group and we’ve been able to adapt to the new challenges so far.”
The only members of the Raiders that have made it to the final four are head coach Marc Habscheid, assistant coach Jeff Truitt and assistant coach Dan Gendur.
Habscheid made it to the league final as the head coach for the Kamloops Blazers in 1999 and the Kelowna Rockets in 2003, in addition to a semifinal runs with the Rockets in 2002 and in 2004 when they won the Memorial Cup as tournament hosts.
Truitt was an assistant with the championship winning Lethbridge Hurricanes in 1997, worked alongside Habscheid in Kelowna from 2002-04 and was the head coach for the Rockets when they won the league in 2005 and the semifinal in 2006.
He was also an associate coach for the Red Deer Rebels when they made the Eastern Conference final in 2016, which was the same year that the team made the Memorial Cup semifinal as event hosts.
Gendur made it to the Western Conference final as a forward for the Everett Silvertips in 2007.
“Well that just means Jeff and I are old,” Habscheid joked. “Experience is a great teacher though and it’s up to us to help the players out with what they can expect along the way.
“The scope gets bigger as the playoffs go on, but it becomes a lot more fun and it’s always special when you get to this point.”
The Oil Kings have some conference final experience on their roster as forward Andrew Fyten and defenceman Jacson Alexander were part of last year’s Swift Current Broncos side that won the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
Fyten, who was acquired from the Broncos in December, has 24 points in 33 regular season games with the Oil Kings and has seven points in 10 games so far in the playoffs.
“I’m in a little bit of a different role here as I’m more of a leader instead of being part of the supporting cast, but I’m having fun with it,” Fyten said.
“I learned a lot last year with how to prepare for these games and how to play the right way in the playoffs. There’s a lot of guys on that Broncos team that are going to be in the pros and to play with them was a great experience for me.”
Alexander, who joined the Oil Kings prior to the start of the season, hasn’t played since late October due to a season ending injury.
After posting a 48-18-4-4 record to win the Central Division, the Oil Kings beat the Medicine Hat Tigers in six games and swept aside the Calgary Hitmen for their best post-season run since winning the Memorial Cup in 2014.
“I’ve really liked our overall team game,” Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer said. “We only had a couple of guys on our roster with playoff experience coming in here, but they’ve done a great job of handling the highs and lows that we see at this time of the year.
“We’ve been rolling four lines all year and I think that’s part of the reason why you are seeing a number of our guys getting on the score sheet during the first two rounds.”
Vince Loschaivo leads the team in points with 10, while Quinn Benjafield and rookie Jake Neighbours had nine points each.
Dylan Myskiw has stepped up his game in the playoffs as well, as he’s posted a 5-2 record with a 1.93 goals against average and a .920 save percentage on his way to being named the Canadian Hockey League’s Goaltender of the Week on Tuesday.
“He’s been a wall back there for us,” Fyten said.
“Dylan’s been steady for us all season and it’s great to know that we have them back there to help us out.”
The Raiders, who advanced to the semifinal round with a sweep of the Red Deer Rebels and a six-game triumph over the Saskatoon Blades, also had one of their players recognized this week as Dante Hannoun earned the WHL’s Player of the Week award after scoring six goals in the last three games against the Blades.
The overage forward is tied with Vancouver Giants forward Davis Koch for the playoff scoring lead with 14 points and leads the league in goals with nine.
“We thought Dante would be a good fit for us when we brought him in from Victoria in January and he certainly has been,” Habscheid said. “It took him a little bit to get used to our style of play, but he’s adapted quickly and he’s a great guy to have in the locker room, which is very important to us.”
Gregor and Brett Leason are tied for second in team scoring with 12 points, while goaltender Ian Scott has an 8-2 record with a league best 1.81 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.
The Raiders are without the services of Justin Nachbaur for Friday’s opener as the forward serves the second and final game in a two-game suspension for an interference major and game misconduct penalty for a hit on Saskatoon Blades defenceman Dawson Davidson in Game 5.
The status of forward Cole Fonstad is also up in the air as the Montreal Canadiens prospect missed the last two games against the Blades due to an undisclosed injury.
Although the Raiders had a 3-1 advantage in the regular season series, the Oil Kings were able to get three points at the Art Hauser Centre as they dropped a 6-5 overtime affair on Dec. 12 and picked up a 6-3 win on Feb. 1.
“We learned a lot each time that we played Prince Albert this year, whether it was as individuals or with our overall game,” Lauer said. “They give you everything that they have and we need to be smart with how we manage the puck, as they are very deep up front.”
“Edmonton’s a strong team and they have some good speed, which you have to try and shut down,” Gregor added. “Obviously Trey (Fix-Wolansky) has been one of the top guys in the league all year, but they have a couple of mobile defencemen that can create offence as well.”
The two sides will square off again at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Art Hauser before the series shifts to Rogers Place for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m.
A fifth game, if needed, would be in Prince Albert on Friday, April 26 at 7 p.m., with a sixth contest taking place in Edmonton at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 28.
The Art Hauser Centre would play host to the seventh and deciding affair, if required, on Tuesday, April 30 at 7 p.m.
The winner of this series will face either the Vancouver Giants or the Spokane Chiefs in the league final.
Their Western Conference championship matchup begins tonight in Langley, B.C.