For the first time since 2019, a new WHL champion will be crowned. The defending Prince Albert Raiders were bounced in the first round of the playoffs following an 8-2 loss in game five to the Winnipeg ICE on Friday night at Wayne Fleming Arena.
“The guys were trying, but it was hard not to get frustrated,” head coach Marc Habscheid said. “Chaika broke a fingernail in warmups, so it seemed like that effected his play. We just didn’t recover from there. We were over matched, they’re a better team.”
The Raiders were able to kill off a penalty that Remy Aquilon took just 1:42 into the game, but the ICE opened the scoring 9:58 into the first period. Owen Pederson ripped a shot from the right circle that hit traffic in front, but the puck came loose in the crease. Jack Finley jumped on the rebound and knocked the second try home. For the fourth time in five games, the ICE jumped in front to take a 1-0 lead.
With 5:42 to go in the first, Zachary Benson extended Winnipeg’s lead to 2-0 during a two on one rush. Displaying patience in front of Chaika, Benson stick handled before taking a backhand shot after the Raider netminder was fooled by the initial deke. Benson’s fourth goal of the series doubled the ICE lead.
Winnipeg added another goal exactly one minute later, as Mikey Milne scored his team leading fifth goal of the postseason with 4:42 left in the opening frame. Jakin Smallwood threw a pass in front from behind the net and Milne was there to fire a shot to make it 3-0.
Jonas Woo made it 4-0 with 2:54 to go in the first, scoring his first playoff goal and registering his first playoff point in the process. On a breakaway and breaking down the left wing, the right handed shooting Woo sniped a shot far side beating Chaika’s glove. Scoring four goals in seven minutes, Winnipeg took a commanding 4-0 lead going into the second, also outshooting Prince Albert 13-1.
Connor McClennon made it a 5-0 lead 1:57 into the second period, which ended Chaika’s night for the third time this series. Finley and Pederson each registered their second points of the night with assists on McClennon’s third goal of the playoffs. Making 10 saves on 15 shots, Chaika was replaced in goal by Max Hildebrand.
On their third penalty kill of the game, the Raiders cut into the lead with a shorthanded goal from the stick of Reece Vitelli. His team leading third goal of the postseason made it a 5-1 ICE lead with 10:16 left in the second period.
Hildebrand stopped all 11 shots he faces in the remainder of the second period, as the ICE went into the third holding a 5-1 lead.
Benson and McClennon, as well as Matthew Savoie, each scored goals for the ICE in the third period, while Sloan Stanick was credited with Prince Albert’s lone goal in the third, as Winnipeg took game five by an 8-2 final.
“We beat Winnipeg three times in the regular season, and we were one of only two teams to do that,” Habscheid added. “They got healthy and loaded up for the playoffs. We got a game from them and really could have gotten two.
“The guys found a way to get into the playoffs, they battled all year. We got better and we scrapped and clawed and did it the Raider way.”
With the win, the ICE advance to the second round of the playoffs, joining the Edmonton Oil Kings, who were the first team to advance to the second round after sweeping the Lethbridge Hurricanes.