Brooks Bandits (AJHL) crowned CJHL champions

By Jason La Rose, Hockey Canada

BROOKS, Alta. Simon Boyko opened and closed the scoring for the Brooks Bandits, and the hosts rode a three-goal first period to a 4-3 win over the Prince George Spruce Kings on Sunday and a second title at Canada’s National Junior A Championship.

The victory comes six years to the day the Bandits first hoisted the trophy; they dashed the dreams of the hosts that day, beating the Summerside Western Capitals 3-1 in the 2013 final.

Boyko, who went without a point in the preliminary round, came up big for the second day in a row; he had a goal and an assist in a semifinal win over the Ottawa Jr. Senators on Saturday afternoon.

Just as he did against the Jr. Senators, Boyko opened the scoring early. Stepping out from behind the net, Boyko battled a backhand past Logan Neaton to get the standing-room-only crowd at the Centennial Regional Arena going just 93 seconds in.

William Lemay doubled the advantage six minutes later, hammering a one-timer past a screened Neaton, and captain Nathan Plessis – one of three Bandits who played in the national final in 2017, when Brooks gave up a late lead and lost to the host Cobourg Cougars in overtime – knocked in a rebound at 13:20 to make it 3-0.

The Bandits dominated the first period, outshooting the Spruce Kings 16-5.

Prince George got on the board on the power play early in the second period when Patrick Cozzi swept a loose puck in front past a diving Pierce Charleson, but Boyko restored the three-goal advantage before the end of the middle frame, stopping up at the face-off dot and wiring a wrist shot over the glove of Neaton.

The fans at the CRA were ready to begin the coronation as the third period began, but the Spruce Kings had other ideas.

The Pacific Region champions – who beat the Bandits in six games in the Doyle Cup to win the regional title – outshot Brooks 14-5 in the final 20 minutes, and got within one when Nick Poisson banged a rebound off the post and behind Charleson to make it 4-2 with 9:34 left.

Neaton went to the bench with three minutes to go, and a swarming Spruce Kings offence produced a third goal off the stuck of Nolan Welsh, who tipped in a shot from Dylan Anhorn with 44.8 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to one.

But there would be no equalizer, and the party was on as the clock struck zeroes.

Brooks is the fourth host team in the last five years to win the national title, joining the Portage Terriers (2015), Cobourg Cougars (2017) and Chilliwack Chiefs (2018).

The 2020 National Junior A Championship will be played May 9-17 at Stride Place in Portage la Prairie, Man., with the Terriers, who were West Region representatives in Brooks, set to host.

Photo credit: Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images