Guelph eliminates Prince Albert to prolong WHL drought
Loss is the 13th in a row for western representative at junior championship
Nick Suzuki put an end to the season for the Prince Albert Raiders, while also giving his Guelph Storm a chance to go directly to the Memorial Cup final.
The Montreal Canadiens prospect had two goals and an assist as Guelph beat the WHL champion Raiders 5-2 on Tuesday, eliminating Prince Albert from the four-team tournament.
The OHL champion Storm (2-1) are now turning their attention to Wednesday's final round-robin game that will decide which one of the three remaining teams goes straight to the championship.
"We knew we had to up our compete level, win more battles. I thought we did a good job of that," said Suzuki.
"We're definitely happy but we have to watch this next game to see where it takes us, but we know we are in at least the semifinals."
WATCH | Guelph eliminates Prince Albert:
The host Halifax Mooseheads (2-0) play the Quebec league champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (1-1) to wrap up the preliminary-round portion of the tournament. It's a rematch of the QMJHL final that the Huskies took in six games.
A Halifax win would send the Mooseheads directly to the final with a 3-0 record, while a Huskies victory would leave Halifax, Guelph and Rouyn-Noranda with 2-1 records and needing a tiebreaker to determine playoff seeding.
"We can't control anything that happens in that game, we just have to watch it. They don't really like each other so hopefully it's a hard competitive game," said Suzuki.
Linemate Isaac Ratcliffe also scored and assisted on both Suzuki goals.
Fedor Gordeev and Liam Hawel added goals for the Storm (2-1) while Sean Durzi tacked on two helpers for a tournament-leading seven points in three games. Anthony Popovich made 19 saves.
Sean Montgomery and Dante Hannoun scored for the Raiders (0-3). Brayden Pachal had two assists as Ian Scott stopped 20 shots.
"Not the way we wanted to finish for sure," said Raiders coach Marc Habscheid. "I'm disappointed for the guys right now.
"Tonight we were gassed. Just didn't have much of a tank, so that's the tournament."
WHL champions have struggled in recent years at the Memorial Cup and this time around was no different.
The Raiders dropped three games in a row at the national major junior hockey championship to be sent home early.
Tuesday's loss was the 13th in a row for the WHL at the four-team competition, dating back five tournaments.
The last time the WHL champion won a contest was the 2015 semifinal, when the Kelowna Rockets beat the Quebec Remparts before falling to the Oshawa Generals in the final to start the streak of defeats.
Suzuki picked up the puck near centre and skated over the blue line before sending a cross-ice pass to Gordeev, who beat Scott high blocker at 10:18 of the first to open the scoring.
The Raiders responded less than two minutes later when Montgomery deflected a Noah Gregor point shot through Popovich just eight seconds into a power play.
Ratcliffe got the better of Pachal in a battle between the captains to restore Guelph's lead, toe-dragging around the Prince Albert defenceman before sliding a backhand between Scott's legs at 15:18.
'We were drained'
The Storm looked to be heading into the break up 2-1 only for Hannoun to tip one by Popovich with 44 seconds to go in the period.
Hawel snapped one glove side on Scott for a 3-2 advantage just 1:21 into the second, and Suzuki doubled the lead as he got in behind the defence and finished off a pass from Ratcliffe at 5:02.
Despite being down two and their season on the line, the Raiders weren't showing the urgency they needed and didn't get a shot on Popovich until 11 minutes into the period.
"Long season, emotionally and physically. No excuse but we were drained," said Pachal.
Suzuki put the game out of reach for good at 6:42 of the third when he banked the puck into the net off the back of Scott's pad from the goal-line.
"There was some improvement from Games 1 and 2 here tonight, managed the puck better, played with the lead better," said Storm coach George Burnett. "When we were a little sloppy we got through it.
"I think it's important for us to get some rest. Make sure our energy is high for the next opportunity."