Raiders win first East Division title in 20 years

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Ozzy Wiesblatt leads the fly-by past the Prince Albert Raiders bench after he scored his 15th goal of the season Saturday against the Brandon Wheat Kings.

A new banner will soon be hanging in the rafters at the Art Hauser Centre.

For the first time since 1999, the Prince Albert Raiders have captured the Western Hockey League’s East Division regular season title as they clinched home ice advantage for the first three rounds of the playoffs following a dominant 7-1 performance Saturday against the visiting Brandon Wheat Kings.

“We’re obviously happy about it but we still have bigger fish to fry,” Raiders head coach Marc Habscheid said.

“I’m proud of the guys and the season they’ve had so far. To get a banner is great, but we have much bigger plans.”

Saturday’s showing was also a big statement from the Raiders as they stopped a Wheat Kings side that had beat them twice last weekend and was riding a six-game winning streak.

“We were all looking forward to this one,” Habscheid said. “They were trying to take some liberties, they were running around at us and they were taunting us a bit after they got those two wins, so the guys were pretty excited to face them again.

“That was probably as dominant of a performance as we’ve had all year, which is good to see as we continue to get in that playoff mindset.”

As they did on Monday against the Moose Jaw Warriors, the line of Cole Fonstad, Noah Gregor and Ozzy Wiesblatt proved too much for the opposition to handle.

Fonstad led the charge with a goal and three assists, while Gregor scored twice and dished out a helper to move into a tie with Brett Leason for the team scoring lead with 81 points.

Wiesblatt had a goal and two assists for the Raiders, as they won their third straight game and improved to 49-8-1-2 on the season.

“We had a lot of fun out there tonight,” Fonstad said. “Noah and Ozzy are both highly skilled players and we’ve had some good chemistry together all season when we’ve played together.

“We were all focussed on the little details tonight and that’s going to be what we need to do in the playoffs. You have to make the smart plays if you want to succeed.”

Dante Hannoun had a pair of assists for the hosts, who took the season series over the Wheat Kings by a 4-2 margin and also got goals from Jakob Brook, Sean Montgomery and Parker Kelly.

Ian Scott turned aside 15 shots in the contest, with his only blemish coming in the first period as Vinny Iorio put home a point shot for his first career WHL goal.

Jiri Patera got the start for the 29-23-3-4 Wheat Kings, but he was pulled just past the midway part of the second period after allowing five goals on 30 shots.

Ethan Kruger finished out the game and made 16 saves over the final 28 minutes.

The Raiders will continue their five-game homestand Wednesday when the Lethbridge Hurricanes come to town for a 7 p.m. matchup

That will be followed up by a Friday night affair with the Red Deer Rebels before a Saturday road contest with the Moose Jaw Warriors.

“It’s good for us to be playing teams like that to get us in that playoff mindset,” Raiders captain Brayden Pachal said. “You can’t just flip the switch once the first round gets underway.

“I’m sure we’ll have some more fans coming into the rink here before the post-season and that’s going to get our legs going for sure.”

Post-Game Notes

This marks the fourth time the Raiders have won the East Division since entering the WHL in 1982, as they previously accomplished that feat in the 1984-85, 1991-92 and 1998-99 campaigns.

The 1999 playoffs marked the only time that the team didn’t have home ice advantage for the first three rounds of the post-season, as the Calgary Hitmen had a 15-point advantage over the Raiders in the Eastern Conference.

When it comes to clinching home ice advantage through the entire playoffs, which the Raiders have only accomplished during their 1985 run to the Memorial Cup, the team just needs to earn four points over the final eight regular season games to hold off any charges from the Everett Silvertips or the Vancouver Giants.

Despite their setback to the Raiders, the Wheat Kings still have a four-point lead in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as the Red Deer Rebels dropped their fourth game in a row Saturday.

It was a rough night in more ways than one for the Wheat Kings as they lost the services of three forwards during the game.

Lynden McCallum left the contest after a hit in the second period, an already banged-up Stelio Mattheos did not return after a fight with Brayden Pachal late in the middle frame and Marcus Sekundiak was out of action after he was on the receiving end of a hard hit by Parker Kelly with a few minutes to go in regulation.

Mattheos and Luka Burzan saw their seven-game point streaks end Saturday, while Cole Reinhardt and Zach Wytinck both had five-game runs come to an end.

Max Martin was the lone scratch for the Raiders, who reassigned goaltender Brett Balas to the Calgary Canucks and forward Cole Nagy to the Saskatoon Blazers earlier in the day.

Defenceman Jonny Lambos and forward Linden McCorrister did not dress for the Wheat Kings.

Saturday’s Scores

  • Moose Jaw 5 Regina 2 (Tristin Langan – Two Goals and One Assist)
  • Saskatoon 4 Kootenay 3 (Kyle Crnkovic Shootout Winner – Brad Ginnell – One Goal and Two Assists – Saskatoon Clinches First Playoff Berth Since 2013)
  • Calgary 6 Swift Current 1 (Carson Focht – Four Assists)
  • Edmonton 5 Red Deer 2 (Vladimir Alistrov – One Goal and One Assist)
  • Portland 4 Seattle 3 (Seth Jarvis Shootout Winner – Shane Farkas – 22 Saves In a Relief Role)
  • Lethbridge 5 Medicine Hat 0 (Calen Addison – Two Goals and One Assist – Carl Tetachuk – 35 Saves – First Career Shutout)
  • Kelowna 2 Kamloops 0 (Roman Basran – 18 Saves – Second Shutout This Season and Third Career)
  • Spokane 2 Tri-City 1 (Reece Klassen – 24 Saves)
  • Victoria 5 Vancouver 4 (Phillip Schultz Shootout Winner – Griffen Outhouse – 38 Saves – Vancouver Clinches First B.C. Division Title Since 2010)
  • Everett 6 Prince George 3 (Gianni Fairbrother – Three Assists)

Sunday’s Schedule

  • Kootenay vs. Moose Jaw – 4 p.m.
  • Vancouver vs. Victoria – 5 p.m.