Dating back 50 years, the first-ever Centennial Cup, Canadian Junior A Championship was competed for in 1971 with the Red Deer Rustlers (AJHL) eventually prevailing and winning the national crown.
First a little background on how the Centennial Cup initially came about.
Beginning in the spring of 1970, a motion was tabled at the then Canadian Amateur Hockey Association Annual General Meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland by Frank McKinnon of Manitoba to allow the Junior ‘A’ leagues across the country to compete for a national championship.
This move came about following the three major junior leagues in Canada leaving the CAHA to form what would eventually become the Canadian Hockey League.
McKinnon’s motion was passed and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association added to this by donating the Manitoba Centennial Trophy (Centennial Cup), which was to be awarded annually to the Canadian Jr. A champion, in honour of 100 years of hockey in Manitoba.
During that 1970-71 campaign, Jr. A clubs across the country would commence their quest for national supremacy.
On-ice action in the west eventually saw Red Deer and the Penticton Broncos (BCJHL) tangle in a hard-fought series for the Alberta/B.C. title.
There, Penticton got off to a great start, winning the first two games before Red Deer rattled off three straight wins.
After the Broncos bounced back to take Game 6, the Rustlers rolled in the finale to advance to the Abbott Cup Western Canadian Final, awaiting either the St. Boniface Saints (MJHL) or Weyburn Red Wings (SJHL).
That Manitoba/Saskatchewan affair for the ANAVET Cup saw St. Boniface never trail before eventually taking the series in six games.
Despite the Saints success against the Red Wings, it was all Red Deer in the Abbott Cup as the Rustlers swept the West Final, needing the minimum four outings to move on to the first national Jr. A final.
In the East, six teams would win their respective leagues, with the four of them competing in quarter-final play while the Ottawa M&W Rangers (CJHL) and Detroit Jr. Red Wings (SOJHL) advancing right to the semis.
The Maritimes featured a best-of-seven affair that saw the Charlottetown Islanders (MJAHL) sweep the Moncton Beavers (NBJHL) in four straight games.
Meanwhile in northern and northwestern Ontario, the Sudbury Wolves and Port Arthur Marrs of Thunder Bay would battle in another best-of-seven affair played in front of capacity crowds that went the distance before the Marrs prevailed with a 4-3 victory in Game 7.
Moving on to the Eastern semifinals, Detroit roared back from a two games to none deficit to beat Ottawa by taking the next four match-ups.
As for high-scoring Charlottetown, they needed just five outings to defeat Thunder Bay while scoring 38 times in the process.
Continuing to click on all cylinders offensively, the Islanders punched their ticket to Centennial Cup by clipping the Red Wings four games to two in the Dudley-Hewitt Memorial Trophy East final, including notching 37 more tallies.
It was said that the Rustlers were to host the first-ever Centennial Cup, however fire regulations preventing capacity crowds at Red Deer Arena resulted in the event shifting to Charlottetown for the entire event.
Even with having to go on the road, the visitors won the first two games by scores of 6-3 and 7-3.
After the Islanders rebounded with a 6-4 decision in Game 3, the guests answered that with a 7-4 triumph in the fourth meeting.
Staving off elimination in Game 5 thanks to a one-sided 7-2 victory, Red Deer regained their form, winning 7-4 in the finale to take the best-of-seven 4-2 and claim the initial Centennial Cup crown.
The 1971 postseason saw national Jr. A champs go 20-7 overall en route to the title under head coach Alf Cadman.
Brian Ogilvie led the Rustlers in scoring during the regular season with 76 points in 46 games while Wynne Dempster was next on the squad with 64, helping the club finish in top spot in the six-team AJHL with a 30-11-9 record.
Goaltender Dale Henwood saw the bulk of the action between the pipes for Red Deer, seeing 2,203 minutes of playing time during the campaign while sporting a 3.30 goals-against average and finishing second in the league in that category.
An AJHL power house, the Rustlers won league titles in 1970, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’80, ’85, ’87 and ’89 along with winning the Centennial Cup in both 1971 and 1980.
Their two national Jr. A wins ties them for third-most in history.
Among the list of future NHLers that played in the 1971 Centennial Cup final included Al MacAdam (Charlottetown) and Brian Ogilvie (Red Deer)
1970-71 Red Deer Rustlers roster (Courtesy HockeyDB.com)
With files from Charla Flett, Vice–President, Communications (AJHL) & Hockey Canada