Without diving into a nauseating list of cliches, it’s become common knowledge that championships can be won or lost by the slimmest of margins. That’s why championships are hard to win and highly celebrated once they are won; because a bounce here or there can push a team past another in an equally fitted matchup.
Not too long ago, a bouncing puck off an unsuspecting ankle and a broken stick in front of a yawning cage cost Team Canada a shot at the World Junior Championship gold medal on home soil.
Of course, bounces go both ways, too. The Toronto Marlies nearly blew a 2-0 series lead in the best-of-five first-round tilt with the Utica Comets and went through all the rollercoasters of a championship Game 7 in order to win the American Hockey League Calder Cup last spring.
Prince Albert Raiders netminder Ian Scott has had one of the best seats in the house for both of those outcomes, as he was a backup for both units.
Mixed with the fresh perspectives of a great team getting derailed and the warm memories of the thrill of victory in the Calder Cup, Scott is hoping to he can pull from those past experiences this spring as he leads the Raiders into the playoffs.
This year has been a breakout one for Scott, who is playing the best hockey of his career. The pressure was on at a young age, as he was the third-highest drafted goalie in Western Hockey League history. Adjusting to the league immediately, he appeared in 26 games as a 16-year-old, as the foundation for a prosperous career was laid.
“(Goaltender) Rylan Parenteau was a big role model for me when I broke into the league. He really helped me take everything day-to-day, kept me focused and helped me to get better,” said Scott, who recorded a 3.24 goals against average and appeared in one playoff game during his rookie campaign. “That was a big and important year for me.”
From there, his workload doubled, as he suited up for 50 games during his 17- and 18-year-old seasons. Even though his goals against ballooned up to 3.69 in his draft year, the Leafs still pegged him with the 110th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. As the tenth goalie off the board, that draft pick is looking more valuable each day.
“He was pretty raw when he first came in. Now, he’s honed his skills, is more mature and understands what it takes to be a good goaltender in this league,” said Raiders Head Coach Marc Habscheid.
Moving with ease, being a great athlete and staying calm in the crease are some of Scott’s greatest assets. He can also handle the puck with confidence, as he showed off earlier this season.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 17, 2018
Always reliable in net, it wasn’t until Scott made his pro debut that he took a jump up to elite status in the Western Hockey League.
The AHL affiliate for the Maple Leafs, the Marlies, called Scott up after the Raiders season ended last year for one regular season game and to be part of the organization’s playoff drive. Living like a pro for two and half months — even though he watched from the pressbox — changed his game. After three seasons mired with a goals against average over 3.00, Scott has nearly cut that mark in half this season.
“It’s been a pretty fun year so far. I knew we would have a good team this year and I wouldn’t have the numbers that I do if it wasn’t for them,” said Scott. “But practising and training with Calvin (Pickard) and Garret (Sparks) with the Marlies, I was able to take a lot of what they do back with me and use it this year.”
At that point in time, Scott was without a deal. He signed an amateur tryout with the Marlies, allowing him to appear in one game and to be with the team as long as the playoff drive lasted, but nothing more.
The Calgary native stopped 30-of-33 shots in his pro debut April 15, which was highlighted by a toe save on Andrew Strutz in the second, as the Marlies skated to a 4-3 victory over the Belleville Senators.
“I thought he was terrific,” Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe told Pension Plan Puppets after the game. “It’s a difficult circumstance for a goalie to come in a game like this when you have a lot of our regulars not playing. We looked like a team that hasn’t practiced together. That’s tough on a goaltender, but I thought he was excellent. He looked confident to me, made a lot of great saves, and had to battle right to the end.”
After seeing Scott train everyday during the playoffs, along with the notable numbers he was posting this year with his junior club, the Leafs finally extended a deal to the netminder.
Meanwhile, Scott was trying to complete the Hockey Canada program by earning a spot on the World Junior team. He previously represented Canada at the U-17 and U-18 programs, appearing in eight games with a 3.40 goals against average and a .881 save percentage.
Just over a week out from the start of the tournament, the Leafs floated an entry-level contract the Calgarians way.
“There was always some motivation not having signed a contract. I knew there were contract talks once camp began, so it was nice to sign it and put it in the rearview mirror. I was then able to focus more at camp and more so now back with the Raiders,” said Scott. “I’m still motivated even after the deal, now there are just more open doors to work towards.”
Even though Scott was on the bench for the infamous bad-luck loss to Finland, he was still able to walk away with a new outlook on the game.
“You can always look back at that stuff and say, ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda,’ but you got to use those learning experiences and draw from that, knowing what it takes to get to the next level,” said Scott.
Entering a tournament as a favourite and being knocked off by a lesser team will serve as a valuable lesson for Scott, regardless of how painful it was. Currently, the Raiders will enter the postseason as the overwhelming favourite to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup, as they have been beating up on the rest of the WHL like a tomato can this season.
“We go into every game knowing it’s going to be hard because we get the other team’s best effort each night now. We can’t afford to take any teams lightly anymore,” said Scott.
After taking over top spot in the Canadian Hockey League rankings in Week 5 (Oct. 17), the Raiders haven’t looked back.
Despite only losing once in the first two and a half months of the season, people thought that the Raiders would lose steam over the holidays and the World Junior break. And they were right, as the Raiders went a staunchy (compared to their 26-1-0-1 rip to start the season) 9-4-0-1 through January 9th. Since then, the Raiders have regained steam and only lost one game in regulation in their past seven. Winning the league title this year could put the Raiders in the conversation with the 1999-2000 and 2008-09 Calgary Hitmen, the Kamloops Blazer teams from the early 90s, the 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings and the Kelowna Rocket teams from the early and late 2000s as some of the greatest teams assembled.
As they aim for their 14th week atop the CHL standings, they remain on a realistic course to set a franchise record with wins.
Currently, they are decimal points ahead of the 58-win pace from the 1985 Raider unit that captured the only Ed Chynoweth Cup in the franchise’s 36-year history.
Needless to say, all the eyes will be looking to the top team in the league come playoff time.
It’s a position that many of the current Raiders are familiar with, as the shoe was on the other foot last spring.
The Raiders entered the playoffs in the eight seed last year and were staring up at the regular season league champion Moose Jaw Warriors. The Warriors finished with 52 wins, 20 more than the Raiders, and looked like they were a wrecking ball ready to smush anything in its path.
But Scott and the underdog Raiders gave the Warriors a run for their money. Even after losing Game 2 and 3 in overtime, the Raiders battled back down 3-1 in the series to force a Game 7, where they sat tied with the Warriors with five minutes remaining in regulation.
Breaks and slims margins cost Scott and the Raiders a chance at pulling off one of the greatest upsets in recent history. It’s something he hasn’t soon forgotten.
“That was a great test of adversity for myself and my teammates. We battled back but in the end it wasn’t enough. A couple bounces here or there and it could have been different,” said Scott.
All the varying playoff experiences over the last calendar year have provided Scott a different context on winning and losing, and probably a cliche or too.
“Things happen. I’ve seen now that we have to bring it every game, all the time. We can’t be passengers out there. We have to be ready to go when the puck drops, because you never know what might happen,” said Scott.
Should Scott show that he can withstand the pressure that comes with the expectations of winning a championship and deliver on the biggest stage, it could go a long way in easing the minds of one of the NHL’s largest and most tortured fan bases, who know a thing or two about playoff heartbreak.