National Junior A Championship Team Preview: Brooks Bandits (AJHL)

CALGARY, Alta. The culmination of the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s 2018-19 campaign will be completed in Brooks, Alta., as they host the Canadian National Junior A Championship, May 11-19, at Centennial Regional Arena.

Here’s a look at that host team, the Brooks Bandits, champions of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

HEAD COACH: Ryan Papaioannou

HOW THEY ARRIVED: Despite serving as the host team for the 2019 NJAC, the Brooks Bandits are as highly-touted as you can get, having spent the majority of the season tabbed as the No. 1 side in the weekly CJHL Top 20 rankings.

Brooks played an elite-level pace all season long in the AJHL rolling to a league-record 114 points on a stellar 57-3-0 overall run in the regular season, capping it off riding a superb 33-game winning streak to skate away with top spot in the 16-team standings.

Taking on the Canmore Eagles in quarter-final play, the Bandits needed five games to take that opening round playoff match-up.

Up next, a strong Okotoks Oilers side provided the opposition in a well-played best-of-seven affair before Brooks came out on top in six outings.

In a rematch of the 2018 Inter Pipeline Cup league championship series, Brooks would take on the Spruce Grove Saints for a second consecutive year. Of note, either one team or the other have won the AJHL title in each of the past 10 seasons.

This go around saw the Bandits have the upper hand as they took the first two games, on home ice, by identical 3-2 scores, including Game 2 that needed double overtime before it was decided in Brooks’ favour.

Then heading to Spruce Grove, the Bandits continued their winning ways by skating to a 5-1 decision in Game 3 then finished off a sweep of the Saints thanks to a 2-0 triumph in the series-clinching finale.

DOYLE CUP: Moving on to the Doyle Cup, they, being the host of the NJAC, they and the BCHL-winning Prince George Spruce Kings, both knew they were already each guaranteed a berth into the NJAC.

That didn’t stop the two squads from playing six exciting contests.

Brooks dropped the first meeting at home before bouncing back to take the next two contests.

Travelling to Prince George for the remainder of the best-of-seven set, the Spruce Kings remained unbeaten on home ice in the postseason by skating to a trio of triumphs to win their initial Doyle Cup after earlier claiming their first-ever BCHL title.

FORWARDS: William Lemay led Brooks and all AJHL skaters in regular season scoring by amassing 90 points on 32 goals and a league-best 58 assists.

Fellow forward Ray Christy finished second on the squad and tied for sixth overall in offensive production by registering 16 tallies and 55 helpers for 71 points.

Simon Gravel also finished in the Top 10 in AJHL scoring as he was ninth with 67 points as he found the back of the net on 33 occasions and helped set-up 34 more.

Lemay was equally as solid in the league playoffs as he once again topped the AJHL scoring table by picking up 23 points in 15 games on 11 goals and 12 assists. Simon Boyko meanwhile was close to a point-per-game clip with 14 in 15 contests as he scored five times and earned nine helpers.

Jakob Lee led his club in the Doyle Cup with five points, including four goals.

DEFENCE: Andrew Lucas was the top point producer among defencemen on Brooks with 49 in 53 contests.

Lucas lit the lamp 10 times and dished out 39 assists along the way while teammate Jordan Di Cicco was close by with 46 points, including a half dozen markers.

In the playoffs, Lucas led all AJHL blueliners in scoring with 13 points while collecting four goals as part of his efforts.

GOALTENDERS: Rookie netminder Pierce Charleson appeared in 44 games for Brooks during the season as was an impressive 42-2-0 overall with a 2.16 goals-against average along with a .913 save percentage. He also posted five shutouts.

As for the club’s other goalkeeper, Tanner Marshall, he was flawless, winning all 12 of his starts and recording four shutouts while sporting a 1.33 GAA and a .925 save mark.

Charleson got the nod in net in the playoffs and went 12-3. He also had a 2.11 average and a save percentage of .907 while earning three shutouts. In the Doyle Cup he was 2-4 with a 2.02 GAA and .912 SV%.

SPECIAL TEAMS: To no one’s surprise, Brooks was first in the AJHL in power play proficiency at 29.6%, but seventh on the P.K. at 84.4%. They were also No. 1 in the playoffs with the man advantage at 21.7% and up to second while shorthanded at 88.7%.

BROOKS BITS: The Bandits are making their fourth NJAC appearance in the past seven years. … They won it all in 2013, came in fourth in 2016 and settled for a silver-medal finish in 2017. … There are 17 players on the Brooks roster that have already committed to NCAA Division I men’s hockey programs. … Bandits head coach and general manager Ryan Papaioannou is a finalist for the Darcy Haugan/Mark Cross Memorial Award, emblematic of CJHL Coach of the Year, presented by the NHL Coaches’ Association.

With files from: Charla Flett, VicePresident, Communications (AJHL); Jason La Rose, Manager, Content Services (Hockey Canada); Spencer Sharkey, Coordinator, Communications (Hockey Canada)