By Derek Holtom
Last September 133 junior A hockey teams began the quest for one of the most difficult trophies to capture. Now just five teams remain – including the MJHL’s Portage Terriers, who are about the play in the first of at least two straight national championship tournaments (as they are hosting this event next year.
So let’s take a look at all five teams and what we might expect.
After winning two straight must-win games to win the MJHL championship in a Game 7 overtime thriller, the ANAVET Cup seemed almost like a breeze for the Portage Terriers, who won four straight after dropping the opener against the Battleford North Stars.
In a battle of Portage’s potent offense versus Battleford’s stingy defense, it was the Terriers’ overwhelming attack which won out. They scored 25 goals in five games, including seven in Games 4 and 5 on the road.
Orca Wiesblatt led the Terriers in the ANAVET Cup with seven points, while Scott Mickoski, Chase Brakel and Reece Henry all had six points. In goal, the Terriers once again used both netminders, as they have all season and playoffs long. Nathan Moore played in the first and last game of the series, with veteran Ethan Peterson playing the middle three games – which included an overtime victory in Game 3 which stole back home ice advantage for the Terriers.
Not everyone on this team will be back for a championship run next year, so you have to think the veterans on this Terriers team will be highly motivated to bring the national championship back to the MJHL and Portage – who last won this trophy in 2015.
Brooks Bandits and Prince George Spruce Kings
The host Brooks Bandits almost earned their spot the hard way, as they pushed the BCHL champions to six games in the Doyle Cup, which pitted the Alberta and B.C. champions against one another. Of course, the series was ultimately moot before it began as both teams had already punched their ticket to nationals no matter who won.
Brooks only lost three games in the regular season and three more in the playoffs, so the bitter taste of defeat probably didn’t sit well with them. They were led in the Doyle Cup by Jakob Lee, who had five points, followed by Ray Christy and Brandon Scanlin who each had three points.
The Spruce Kings, as often happens in the BCHL, were not even the top seed. They were second in their division with a solid 39-13-1-5 mark, before turning it on and going 16-1 in the playoffs.
They were led in the Doyle Cup by American Patrick Cozzi who had six points in six games, followed by Ben Poisson and Dylan Anhorn who each had five.
Both teams have the advantage of having played each other and in the host arena before nationals, so that could be an advantage for them to exploit.
The Blades earned their way into nationals by winning the Dudley Hewitt Cup, beating the Hearst Lumberjacks in the final by a score of 2-0. The Dudley Hewitt Cup is a regional tournament featuring the champions from various Ontario junior A leagues.
Oakville won the OJHL final by beating the Wellington Dukes in four straight games, and was an impressive 16-3 in the playoffs.
Two players to look out for on the Blades are Spencer Kersten and Harrison Israels. Kersten led the team with 60 points in 49 games, while Israels led the team with 27 goals.
Ottawa Jr. Senators
The most eastern representative at nationals will be the Ottawa Jr. Senators. They punched their ticket by winning the Fred Page Cup, featuring the winners of Quebec, Maritime and eastern Ontario junior A leagues. In the final they beat Princeville 9-2 – a team which had gone undefeated in the round-robin.
The Jr. Senators won the CCHL final by beating the Carleton Place Canadians in five games.
This will be their second straight appearance at nationals, having lost in the semifinals last year.
Their big guns are Darcy Walsh and Élie Boulerice, who each had 64 points in the regular season.
The Junior A Hockey National Championship schedule is as follows:
Saturday, May 11
Ottawa Jr. Senators vs. Portage Terriers, 1 p.m. PDT
Oakville Blades vs. Brooks Bandits, 6 p.m. PDT
Sunday, May 12
Prince George Spruce Kings vs. Oakville Blades, 1 p.m. PDT
Brooks Bandits vs. Portage Terriers, 6p.m. PDT
Monday, May 13
Prince George Spruce Kings vs. Ottawa Jr. Senators, 6 p.m. PDT
Tuesday, May 14
Portage Terriers vs. Oakville Blades, 1 p.m. PDT
Ottawa Jr. Senators vs. Brooks Bandits, 6 p.m. PDT
Wednesday, May 15
Portage Terriers vs. Prince George Spruce Kings, 6 p.m. PDT
Thursday, May 16
Oakville Blades vs. Ottawa Jr. Senators, 1 p.m. PDT
Brooks Bandits vs. Prince George Spruce Kings, 6 p.m. PDT
Saturday, May 18
Semifinal #1, 1 p.m. PDT
Semifinal #2, 6 p.m. PDT
Sunday, May 19
Championship, 2 p.m. PDT