A lot has changed over the past four years for Senators prospect Parker Kelly. He signed his first National Hockey League contract with Ottawa in 2017, made his professional debut in Belleville at the end last season and now he's off to Halifax to play for the Memorial Cup for the first time.
But one thing has remained constant for the young forward over the past four seasons: his time in Prince Albert as a member of the Raiders.
"I came in as a 15-year-old after the WHL Draft and I didn't really know much about the city or team to be honest," recalled Kelly. "Now it's become my second home. My billets and I are so close and I've made so many great friends in Prince Albert that I'll be coming back to this place long after I'm done playing hockey."
Kelly shared that he couldn't have scripted a better final year in Prince Albert. The Raiders have been one of the most dominant teams in the Canadian Hockey League all season, including a 19-game win streak back in the fall, and finished tops in the WHL with a stunning record of 54-10-2-2.
"We had a great start to the season and went on a really nice win streak early on," he said. "From there it just kind of snowballed towards our end goal of first being regular season champs then following that up in the playoffs by becoming league champs."
The Raiders punched their ticket to the Memorial Cup with a massive 3-2 overtime win in Game 7 of the WHL finals against the Vancouver Giants on Monday night that saw Kelly contribute a pair of assists in regulation as well as helping to cause some chaos in front of the opposition's net on the game winning goal in extra time.
The 20-year-old forward was especially happy with the opportunity to share Monday's win with the home crowd in Prince Albert who he believes helped push the Raiders to their first Western Hockey League championship since 1985.
"Securing home ice this post-season was big for us," said Kelly. "You dream about playing in a Game 7 as a kid playing mini-sticks with your friends so it was incredible to be a part of that win. Being on the ice for the OT winner with the fans going crazy is something that I'll never forget."
Kelly made sure to also credit working with the Ottawa Senators development coaches and staff as a big reason for his continued growth on and off the ice, in particular the many resources, tips and feedback that he's had access to over the past two seasons. And the Senators have definitely noticed.
"Parker has made huge strides. He's already really mature and he's a guy that just gets it," said Sens Player Development Coach Shean Donovan. "Right now, he's the guy in our organization that's won this season and that's important. He put in a lot of work last summer, his skating and hands have improved, so he just keeps getting better."
For the fourth consecutive season, Kelly has improved on his offensive numbers with the Raiders and finished his senior campaign with 67 points (35G, 32A) in 64 games which was good for 4th on the team in scoring. But while his statline showcases his continued commitment to his development, Donovan believes the experience of contributing to a winning Junior team could be an even more important step for Kelly as he looks to make the leap to full-time pro hockey next year.
"The NHL is about winning a Stanley Cup so whenever you can gain that 'winning experience' it gives you something to rely back on," said Donovan. "He's played in and won some big series this year, including Game 7 in overtime where he's on the ice for the winning goal, so he knows what that experience feels like and that he can be counted on to help produce in pressure situations."
"That's something you can't teach and now he has experience doing it. Now he can continue to progress and do that at the next level and hopefully in the NHL one day."
That experience continues tonight for Kelly and the Raiders who are set to open up the Memorial Cup against the host Halifax Mooseheads at 7 p.m. With a Western League title already in the fold, Kelly and his teammates now have their sights set on bringing another trophy back to Prince Albert.
"Winning the Memorial Cup would be the holy grail for us," he said. "The WHL championship was a nice way to end things off at home in front of our fans but it's a pretty quick turnaround here so we have to re-group and get ready for the next challenge in front of us."
Here's when you can catch Parker Kelly and the Prince Albert Raiders in action at the Memorial Cup starting tonight:
- Friday, May 17th @ 7 p.m. vs. Halifax
- Monday, May 20th @ 7 p.m. vs. Rouyn Noranda
- Tuesday, May 21st @ 7 p.m. vs. Guelph
All games will be available on Sportsnet and for more details on the 2019 Memorial Cup click here.