Game 1 did not disappoint.
The WHL championship series got underway Friday night at the Art Hauser Centre, where the Giants took a 1-0 series lead with an exciting and nerve wracking 5-4 victory over Prince Albert.
The Giants took advantage of early penalty trouble from the Raiders, on a 5-on-3, to open the WHL championship series scoring. Dylan Plouffe took a one-time feed from Bowen Byram that beat Ian Scott glove side just 4:20 into the series, the fourth year defenceman’s fifth goal of these playoffs.
Dawson Holt, who is from Saskatoon, had family and friends on hand to watch him score two goals including the game winning goal.
“It’s super cool, I had a lot of friends and family here so to be able to get the win in front of them is super special.” Holt said postgame about the win.
The 19-year-old continued his impressive playoff run less than two minutes after the Plouffe goal when he pounced on a bounce off the end boards from a point shot to give himself his sixth goal of these playoffs. Assists went to both of his linemates in Jared Dmytriw and Owen Hardy to give the Giants a 2-0 lead going into the second.
“The Hardy Boys” were firing on all cylinders in Game 1, collecting six points between the three of them.
The second period saw six goals, three aside, proving that this is going to be an exciting series to finish the WHL season.
The Raiders kicked things off in what would be three goals in three minutes between the two clubs, on the powerplay when Brett Leason fired a shot between the dots that found a way past David Tendeck to make it a one goal game in Prince Albert.
Giants captain Jared Dmytriw, also a Saskatchewan native, restored the two-goal lead off the rush with a snap shot that may have surprised Scott and beat him blocker side.
The Raiders wasted no time getting back within one, just a minute later, Noah Gregor went in on a break off a Parker Kelly pass to beat Tendeck glove side and in turn bringing some life back into the Art Hauser Centre.
The Giants looked to be on their heals a bit throughout the middle frame with the Raiders feeding off their home crowd and showing why they were the best team in the WHL this season.
“We just stayed calm and we just worked hard. Shifts after goals are pretty huge here” Raiders forward Dante Hannoun said about being able to gain momentum after a slow start.
Hannoun, who is no stranger to the Giants after playing parts of five seasons in Victoria, tied the game for the Raiders with just over three minutes remaining in the period.
Just when everyone maybe thought the two teams were going to the dressing rooms tied, the Giants showed why they’ve had so much success this season and something they have not been a stranger to doing in these playoffs.
They rattled off two goals in a 14 second span within the last 30 seconds of the period to take a two-goal lead into the third.
Import forward Yannik Valenti scored his second of the playoffs, both of them coming on the powerplay, with an impressive shot wide open in the slot off a pass from Davis Koch.
The Giants have scored a power-play goal in 15 of their 16 playoff games, which is big for team momentum.
“It’s (their powerplay) given us momentum, and that’s the key. When they tied it 3-3 and we got the (powerplay) opportunity, it was a big goal for us to get us back in the hockey game and get us rolling again.” coach Michael Dyck said about his team’s powerplay success.
The Giants got some puck luck on what was the eventual game winning goal when Dawson Holt just threw one on Ian Scott from behind the goal line that managed to find its way in to give the Giants a major momentum boost going into the final period.
The Raiders got one back early into the third thanks to Jeremy Masella’s first goal of the playoffs, but the Giants were able to hold the Raiders at bay with key shot blocks and defensive play.
If Game 1 was any indication of how this series will go, this may be one for the ages.
Game 2 goes Saturday in Prince Albert.