ESTEVAN, Sask. – The 10 Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) clubs competing for the Centennial Cup, presented by Tim Hortons, are two days into game action at Affinity Place in Estevan.
The following are notes on the Canadian Jr. A Championship, past and present, featuring a host Saskatchewan flavour.
LAST TIME: The last time the National Junior A Championship was hosted by a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League club was back in 2012 by the Humboldt Broncos.
Humboldt went 4-0 in round robin play, but were upset by the then Woodstock Slammers (MHL), 4-3 in overtime, in semifinal play.
The head coach of that Slammers’ squad was Jason Tatarnic, the current bench boss and general manager of this year’s host, the Estevan Bruins.
HOME COOKING: In 2005, the SJHL’s Weyburn Red Wings proved to be the best as they were crowned national champs.
Finishing tied for first place in the round robin with the Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL), a semifinal encounter awaited with the Hawkesbury Hawks (CCHL).
In that contest, Colby Nichol brought the capacity crowd to their feet when he notched the game-winning goal, 16:54 into triple overtime, to send Weyburn off to the final against Camrose, who they topped 3-1 in their initial meeting, earlier in the week.
In another exciting affair, the Kodiaks tied it at 2-2 with 35 seconds remaining in regulation.
Then with OT looming, Rick Wood came right back for the Weyburn and chipped in the game-winner with 16.6 seconds left on the scoreboard clock to give them the victory and national Jr. A honours.
Weyburn stopper Brayden Cuthbert was stellar making 40 saves in the final.
Cuthbert was fantastic throughout, leading all netminders in both goals-against average and save percentage at 1.85 and .940 respectively and was tabbed with Top Goaltender Award accolades.
OTHER SASKATCHEWAN HOSTS: Including Estevan this year, and Weyburn in 2005, five SJHL sides have played host to the national championship in the multiple-team format.
Camrose did prevail over the Flin Flon Bombers in 2001, defeating them 5-0 in the title game, at venerable Whitney Forum.
The Bombers had moved on to the final after blanking Saskatchewan rival Weyburn 4-0 in semifinal action.
The 1999 nationals in Yorkon, Sask., saw the hometown Terriers finish the round robin sharing first place with the Bramalea Blues (OJHL), only to be upended in the semis by the Charlottetown Abbies (MHL) 6-5 in double overtime.
More heartbreak came in 1999 for the Melfort Mustangs.
The hosts breezed though with five straight victories, outscoring their opponents 35-8, including a 7-3 decision over Yorkton in the semifinals.
In the final though, they were stymied by Vernon, B.C., falling 2-0 in the title game, after defeating them 5-1 in round robin play.
It was another disheartening finish for the SJHL in 1987 as the host Humboldt Broncos ended up in top spot, but were sunk by the Richmond Sockeyes in the finale.
WHAT A RUN: In the days when just two teams competed for the Centennial Cup, the SJHL made a statement from 1997 through 2004, claiming five championships and one finals appearance in that span, making rightful claims as the top Jr. A league in Canada.
This was led by a powerful Prince Albert Raiders franchise that won four Centennials Cup during that time frame, and played in another final, under legendary head coach Terry Simpson.
Here’s a link to an in-depth look at those Prince Albert teams from their glory years:
Meanwhile, the 1983-84 version of the Weyburn Red Wings proved their mettle by defeating an Orillia Travelways (OJHL) in the thrilling seven-game set that went the distance.
Red Wings’ goalkeeper John Corrigan collected the shutout in Game 7, while getting got goals from Mike Spencer, Mark Casavant and series MVP Ron Amyotte., as part of a 3-0 triumph in front of a boisterous sold-out throng at the Weyburn Coliseum.
The four Centennial Cups won by Prince Albert are the second-most in CJHL history.
Weyburn (1984 – 2005) and Humboldt (2003 – 2008) are next among teams from Saskatchewan, with two apiece.
BACK AGAIN: The Brooks Bandits (AJHL) and Ottawa Jr. A Senators (CCHL) are both returnees from the last time the event was held.
Brooks hosted it back in 2019 and went on to win it all on home ice.
Senators’ netminder Francis Boisvert meanwhile, went on to earn most valuable player honours, for his efforts between the pipes.
Boisvert will be entering his senior season at St. Lawrence University in the NCAA Division I ranks for the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference school as a member of the Saints men’s hockey program.
3RD SPOT AWAITS: Should the Brooks Bandits (AJHL) win this year’s Centennial Cup; it would be a trio of national crowns.
It would also move them into third spot overall, in terms of titles, nationally.
Brooks also came away victorious in 2013 & 2019.
This is also the Bandits’ fifth appearance at the nationals.
They were finalists in 2016 and advanced all the way to the semifinals in 2017.
Each of those two years saw current Colorado Avalanche star Cale Maker earn MVP and Top Defenceman laurels, while playing for Brooks.
The 24 wins by the Bandits heading into play Saturday are the fourth-most in history.