WHL champion woes continue at Memorial Cup with Raiders elimination

Nick Suzuki and Isaac Ratcliffe each had three points to help the Guelph Storm defeat the Prince Albert Raiders at the Memorial Cup.

The Western Hockey League champions can’t catch a break at the Memorial Cup.

The Prince Albert Raiders were the latest victims on Tuesday night by losing 5-2 to the Guelph Storm and were eliminated from Canada’s major junior championship.

It marks the fourth-straight year the WHL winner hasn’t won a single game at the tournament — a losing streak of 13 games. The last time a WHL champion defeated an opponent at the Memorial Cup was in 2015 with a Kelowna Rockets semifinal win.

Prince Albert’s tournament didn’t come without its chances.

It had a tough start during an opening day matchup against the host Halifax Mooseheads, dealing with a three-hour time change and boisterous Scotiabank Centre crowd.

The Raiders played the top-ranked Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the QMJHL champions, tough on Monday night — arguably their best game of the tournament — but came up short in the third period.

On Tuesday, they played well in the first period but appeared overmatched and outskilled afterwards by a Storm team which won the Ontario Hockey League.

Prince Albert didn’t get the goal production they were used to throughout the regular season and playoffs while goaltender Ian Scott, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, finished the tournament with a 4.36 goals-against average and .860 save percentage.

A positive was seeing forward Sean Montgomery score a power-play goal in the first period. The 21-year-old spent five years with Prince Albert and played the most regular season games in franchise history with 345.

The WHL changed its schedule to reflect the rest of the Canadian Hockey League this past season and played 68 games as opposed to 72 in previous years.

But still it didn’t amount to a victory for its league winner when it counts most at the Memorial Cup.

Here are further takeaways from Day 5 of the tournament:

The turning point

A dominant second period appeared to be the turning point for the Storm.

Liam Hawel scored a power-play goal 1:21 into the period on a nice wrist shot and Guelph took control from there.

Captain Isaac Ratcliffe continued his strong game with a nice pass to Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki, who made no mistake by deking Scott into his own net and scoring.

Suzuki would add another nice goal in the third period, protecting the puck near the face-off circle before weaving his way behind the Raiders net and banking it in off Scott.

The Storm held Prince Albert without a shot for almost 12 minutes in the period and looked the more skilled and quick team. Guelph held an 8-4 shots advantage in the period and 25-21 overall.

Ratcliffe scores a beauty

Philadelphia Flyers fans will have a lot to be excited about if Ratcliffe can score goals in the NHL like he did on Tuesday night.

The six-foot-six, 204-pound left-winger will be making highlight reels for the next several nights after toe-dragging past Raiders captain Brayden Pachal and then sliding the puck it between Scott’s legs.

Ratcliffe, taken by the Flyers in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft, is no stranger to scoring. He tied for the fifth-most goals in the OHL this season, finding the back of the net 50 times.

The London, Ont., native had been held pointless in the tournament until his goal Tuesday.

Maple Leafs pick gets in on action

Fedor Gordeev isn’t your typical goal scorer.

At six-foot-seven and 224 pounds, the stay-at-home defenceman only had seven goals all season between Guelph and the Flint Firebirds.

But the Maple Leafs draft pick picked the right time to jump in on the play after a bad change by Prince Albert. Suzuki took the puck and found an open Gordeev, who put it past a helpless Scott.

Despite his low goal totals, Gordeev has experience up front as Guelph coach George Burnett played him at both forward and defence during the OHL playoffs.

Toronto, which picked him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, has yet to sign Gordeev and a good tournament in Halifax could go a long way towards inking a deal.

The road ahead

Guelph will have to await the result of Wednesday’s round-robin finale between the host Mooseheads and Rouyn-Noranda (1-1) — a rematch of the President’s Cup final.

Halifax (2-0) would advance straight to Sunday’s championship game with a victory with the Huskies and Storm playing in the semifinal.

A Rouyn-Noranda victory would put three teams at 2-1 and a tie-breaking formula would be needed to determine positioning.

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