By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
The five teams for the Western Canada Cup (WCC) are set, and a chance to compete for the RBC Cup is tantalizingly close for two of the participants. The tournament begins Saturday in Penticton, B.C.
The Portage Terriers will be making their third straight appearance at the WCC, and they will be joined by the host and league champion Penticton Vees, the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs (for making it to the league final against the WCC hosts), the AJHL champion Brooks Bandits (for the second straight year), and the SJHL champion Battleford Stars.
Portage opens Sunday at 4 p.m. (CT) against the Battleford North Stars, champions of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Terriers’ GM/Head Coach Blake Spiller said his young club will have its hands full.
“I know they’re all really good clubs, all built to be there this year,” he said. “Penticton and Chilliwack are veteran clubs and have the maximum number of 20-year-olds that they can have and a bunch of 19-year-olds as well, so they’re both older clubs.
“Brooks and Battleford were favourites in their leagues from the get-go, so it’s no surprise that they are there. Brooks is a very skilled club and they have (Cale) Makar and this guy can play.”
Two teams from the Western Canada Cup advance to the RBC Cup national championship, set for Cobourg, Ont., May 5-13. Below is rundown of each team, and how they advanced to the WCC.
The three-time MJHL champions won the league title as the fifth seed, upsetting the Selkirk Steelers, Steinbach Pistons and OCN Blizzard all in six games. In doing so, they were able to clinch each series on home ice in front of their rabid fans.
Leading the way for the Terriers offensively in the post-season was Jeremy Leipsic, who had 19 points in 18 games. Chase Brakel and former Swan Valley Stampeder Josh Martin each had 15 points, while rookie Ty Barnstable led the team with 10 post-season goals.
Kurtis Chapman took over in goal for the Terriers as the playoffs wore on, and he was instrumental in shutting down the potent Blizzard in the last four games of the final. He finished the post-season with a 2.07 GAA and a .931 save percentage and three shutouts in 12 games.
The Chiefs were the No. 2 seed from the Mainland Division of the BCHL with a healthy 41-11-6 record. They opened the playoffs with a 4-2 series victory over the Langley Rivermen, and followed that with a 4-0 sweep over the top seed from the Mainland Division, the Wenatchee Wild. They punched their ticket into the league final – and ultimately the WCC – with a 4-2 series victory over the Victoria Grizzles, the top seed from the Island Division (the BCHL has three divisions).
As they played the WCC host Penticton Vees in the BCHL final, their spot in the Royal Bank Cup qualifying tournament was already assured. But they still had a league final to contest, and the Chiefs made it all the way to Game 7 of the league final before falling 1-0 in overtime.
Jordan Kawaguchi led the Chiefs in scoring in the post-season with an incredible 43 points in 23 games played – nearly two points a game. The next best scorer for Chilliwack was Kohen Olischefski, who put up 10 goals and 23 points, averaging a point per game.
In goal Mark Sinclair was the Chiefs’ main man in goal, as he posted a 2.22 GAA and a .923 save percentage.
The host squad put together a championship lineup this year, and finished first in the Interior Division of the BCHL with a 41-13-3-1 record. That earned them a first-round bye.
In the second round they just edged out the Merritt Centennials 4-3 in a back-and-forth series. Interestingly, the Centennials had a sub-.500 record. But the BCHL is known to be a balanced league, and seeing lower seeds upset favourites is not uncommon.
The Vees then won another seven-game classic against the Vernon Vipers, the second seed in the Interior Division. That set up the final against the Chiefs, which as noted earlier they were able to win in in seven games. Despite having a first-round bye, the Western Canada Cup hosts played the maximum games possible for them in the playoffs – 21 in total.
Nicholas Jones led the way offensively for the Vees, as he scored 10 goals and 17 assists in 21 games. Incredibly only three players had 10 or more points for the Vees in the playoffs – Chris Klack (18 points) and Grant Cruikshank (12 points) being the other two.
Mathew Robson played every minute in goal for the Vees, posting a 2.21 GAA and a .920 save percentage.
The Brooks Bandits repeated as AJHL champions with a 4-0 series victory in the league final against the Whitecourt Wolverines.
The Bandits were barely challenged in the post-season. They needed five games to advance in the semifinal against the Okotoks Oilers, with their lone setback coming in overtime. In the second round of the playoffs they swept away the Olds Grizzlys, scoring 33 goals in four games. And thanks to their stellar 51-5-4 regular season record, the Brooks Bandits enjoyed a first-round bye.
Brooks brings some real fire-power to the WCC. Their leading scorer Josh McKechney had 23 points in just 13 post-season games, while teammate Parker Foo had 10 goals and 10 assists. Brooks also had 10 players with at least 10 points in the playoffs.
In goal, Mitchel Benson played every minute of the post-season, posting a 12-1 record with a 1.21 GAA and a .949 save percentage and four shutouts.
The Battleford Stars won their first SJHL championship since 2000 with a flawless playoff performance, winning 12 straight games.
After avoiding the ‘Survivor Series’ opening round thanks to a 48-9-1 record, the Stars opened up the playoffs with a 4-0 series sweep over the Weyburn Red Wings, won the league semifinal against the Estevan Bruins with four straight wins, and then dispatched the Flin Flon Bombers with four more victories in the league final.
Unlike the Portage Terriers, the Battleford Stars clinched every series on the road.
California product Coby Downs led the way offensively for the Stars with 25 points in 11 playoff games. Keaton Holinaty was the team’s top goal scorer with 10 goals and three assists in 12 games. Interestingly, he only had 20 goals in 56 regular season games, so he clearly elevated his game in the post season.
Between the pipes the Stars used both netminders in the post season, though Taryn Kotchorek played the majority of the minutes. He won nine games, and had a 2.04 GAA and a .925 save percentage. The backup plan is no slouch either. Joel Grzybowski had three post-season wins and put up a 2.09 GAA and a .930 save percentage.