ESTEVAN - Estevan is ready to welcome people from across Canada for the 2022 Centennial Cup national junior A hockey championship, presented by Tim Hortons.
The prestigious tournament will run from May 19-29 at Affinity Place in Estevan, and will feature the host Estevan Bruins and a representative team from each of the nine junior A hockey leagues in Canada.
This will mark the first time that the tournament has had 10 teams. It had been a five-team tournament with four regional champions and a host team since 1990.
It’s also the first time that Estevan has hosted the competition.
Cory Prokop, who is one of the five head committee co-chairs for the tournament, said plans are coming together nicely. He expects the hockey is going to be great and this will be a great 11-day stretch for the community.
“I think everybody that bought a ticket should be excited to see some of the teams coming in,” said Prokop.
He believes the Brooks Bandits – who won nationals as the host team the last time the Centennial Cup happened in 2019 – will be a strong team as the Alberta Junior Hockey League representatives. Brooks has been the top-ranked team in Canada for most of the season.
He’s also looking forward to seeing the Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions, the Dauphin Kings, and each of the league champs from Eastern Canada.
“I think there will be some good competition and some great hockey to be watched over the next couple of weeks here,” said Prokop.
There will be three games played each day during the round robin from May 19-25, with games starting at noon, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The exception is May 22, which will have two games, starting at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
The Bruins will have their first game on May 20 against the Ligue de Hockey Junior AAA du Québec’s champions, Collège Français de Longueuil. Then they will play the Ontario Junior Hockey League champions, the Pickering Panthers, on May 21, the Superior International Junior Hockey League’s Red Lake Miners on May 23 and the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits on May 25 to wrap up the round robin.
The other pool will feature the SJHL finalists, the Flin Flon Bombers, who qualified for nationals when they reached the league final against Estevan. Also in that pool are the Maritime Hockey League champion Summerside Western Capitals, the Ottawa Jr. A Senators of the Central Canada Hockey League, the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, and the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
The top three teams from each pool will advance to the playoff round. The top team in each group gets a bye to the semifinals, while second and third place teams play in the quarter-finals.
Quarter-finals will be May 27 at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and semifinals are the next day at the same times.
The national title game will be May 29 at 4 p.m. That game will air on TSN.
Tournament ticket packages are sold out. There was a surge in tickets sold in mid-May. Prokop said it was partially due to the Bruins winning the SJHL championship in a thrilling seven-game series against Flin Flon, and partly because fans from other teams that have qualified have been snapping up passes.
Approximately 1,900 ticket packages were available.
“It just means good things for the tournament,” said Prokop. “I think we were going into it with a high-end budget of 1,500 tournament packages being sold prior to the tournament start, and then just concentrating on single-game tickets after. To be 100 per cent sold out of the tournament packs at this point is just amazing.”
There will also be about 100 tickets available at each game for those affiliated with the teams. After the deadline passes to grab those 100 tickets, they will be re-released for anybody to purchase.
“I think anybody that took the opportunity to purchase a ticket package is pretty happy, because of the situation we’re in right now,” Prokop said.
Organizers have also been busy securing volunteers, as there were hundreds of shifts that needed to be filled. All were filled by the time a volunteer appreciation barbecue was held Monday night.
“To see the response from the community and how quickly that roster filled up was pretty amazing,” said Prokop. “It’s just a testament to what all of us already knew about the community and the volunteer spirit that we have in Estevan. We’re very lucky to have the community that we have here.”
The committee organizing the tournament has been “agile” with the changes that have occurred, including the switch from a five-team tournament to 10 earlier this year. And there was plenty of uncertainty over the past couple years after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 tournament, which was to be held in Portage la Prairie, Man., and the 2021 tournament, to be played in Penticton, B.C.
Estevan initially bid on the 2021 tournament, but finished in a dead heat with Penticton, so Estevan was chosen for 2022 instead.
“I think all of us are confident that this will be one of the best Centennial Cups ever. That’s the way we’re approaching this as a local host committee. That’s what we want to see, and we’ve been happy with how Hockey Canada has worked with us on the financial side of things, because bringing in 10 teams as opposed to five certainly changed the finances of an event like this,” said Prokop.
“And their willingness to work with us, to make sure that we were kept whole from a financial perspective, and don’t face the additional challenges because of a larger event, has been wonderful.”
Bruins head coach and general manager Jason Tatarnic said he’s familiar with some of the teams other than Flin Flon. He spent years coaching with the Woodstock Slammers of the Maritime league against Summerside.
“They have a pretty experienced team and they’ll be a tough team to deal with at this tournament,” said Tatarnic.
And he knows the Brooks Bandits will be great. Brooks has been the top-ranked team in Canada for most of the season.
The Bruins also watched the Manitoba champions from Dauphin closely this year. The Kings are led by former Bruins head coach Doug Hedley. Kings’ forward Logan Calder is the brother of Bruins’ defenceman Kian Calder.
“You do a little bit of homework on each team, but you don’t want to get too carried away with it, because you still want to focus on what you have to do as a team,” said Tatarnic.
The Bruins have been preparing for the teams that will be here, particularly those they will face in their round-robin pool, and they’ll be watching each team closely once the tournament begins.
“We’ll get to see some of these teams play before we get to play them. I know we’ll get to see Quebec play Brooks a day before we play Quebec, and we’ll get to see Ontario play before we get to play them,” said Tatarnic.
Prokop has seen a lot of excitement building in the community for the event. There will be events happening in Estevan in conjunction with nationals. Businesses have been posting signs in their windows welcoming teams to Estevan.
“It’s hard to drive a block and not see a couple of signs,” said Prokop.
The tournament is expected to carry an economic spin-off of $3 million-$5 million, thanks to all of the people who will be coming to Estevan for the tournament, and spending money at the city’s hospitality businesses, retail stores and more.