ESTEVAN – The Centennial Cup national junior A hockey championship, presented by Tim Hortons, is one of the most prestigious tournaments in Canada, and it is coming to Estevan for the first time.
The tournament has been expanded to 10 teams this year, with representatives from each of the nine leagues joining the host Estevan Bruins for the tournament, which runs from May 19-29.
Here’s a look at each of the teams from Pool B who will be competing:
FLIN FLON BOMBERS (SJHL representatives)
How they qualified: The Bombers advanced to nationals when they reached the SJHL final. They dropped the series to the Estevan Bruins, who are the host team. But don’t take the Bombers lightly.
Flin Flon finished fifth in the SJHL during the regular season with a 34-21-2-1 record, but then knocked off two top teams, the Battlefords North Stars and the Humboldt Broncos, in the playoffs. Humboldt had a couple of national award winners, including top forward Connor McGrath and goaltender Rayce Ramsey.
Flin Flon then pushed the Bruins to Game 7 of the league final.
Expect to see good crowd support for Flin Flon, thanks in part to the number of Bomber fans expected to be at the tournament, and due to the respect they earned from Bruin fans during the league final.
Players to watch: The Bombers’ top scorer during the regular season was defenceman Xavier Lapointe, who had 50 points in 58 regular season games. He was selected as the top defenceman in the league and was a finalist for the top defenceman in the country. Zak Smith (48 points in 50 games) was the top-scoring forward, and Jaeden Mercier (44 points in 39 games) was over a point per game. Goaltender Cal Schell had seven shutouts during the regular season.
Schedule: The Bombers will open the tournament at 4 p.m. on May 19 against the Soo Thunderbirds. Then they play the Central Canadian Hockey League’s Ottawa Junior A Senators on May 21 at 4 p.m., the Maritime Hockey League’s Summerside Western Capitals on May 23 at 4 p.m. and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Dauphin Kings on May 25 at 4 p.m.
DAUPHIN KINGS (Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions)
How they qualified: The Kings were the No. 2 team in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League during the regular season with a 41-12-1 record, which left them four points behind the Steinbach Pistons. Dauphin then rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to defeat the Pistons in seven games in the MJHL final.
Players to watch: The Kings might be another favourite for Estevan fans for a couple of reasons. One is head coach Doug Hedley, who had the same role with the Bruins from 1992-95. Many local fans still remember him. The other favourite is forward Logan Calder, the brother of Bruins’ defenceman Kian Calder. Logan Calder was third in Kings’ scoring this year with 55 points in 52 games.
Forward Kaden Bryant (36 goals and 75 points in 54 games) and defenceman Colby Jaquet (12 goals and 62 points in 54 games) were the Kings top scorers in the regular season.
Schedule: Dauphin will open the tournament on May 20 when they face the Ottawa Junior A Senators at noon. From there, they will play the Capitals on May 22 at 4 p.m., the Bombers on May 24 at 4 p.m. and the Thunderbirds on May 25, also at 4 p.m.
SOO THUNDERBIRDS (Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League champions)
How they qualified: The Thunderbirds, based out of Sault Ste. Marie, had the most dramatic route to the Centennial Cup. They were down 3-0 in the best-of-seven NOJHL final against the Hearst Lumberjacks, but won four straight games, and they needed overtime in Game 7 to beat Hearst 3-2 in the deciding game.
The Thunderbirds went 38-5-2-3 during the regular season to finish first overall, eight points better than the Timmins Rock.
Players to watch: Forward Cooper Foster was their top scorer during the regular season with 18 goals and 60 points in 38 games, while defenceman Andrew Gibson was over a point per game with 21 goals and 51 points in 40 games.
Michael Chaffay, meanwhile, had 12 goals and 23 points in 15 postseason games.
Schedule: The Thunderbirds play their first game at 4 p.m. on May 19. Then they play Summerside the following day, also at 4 p.m., the Senators on May 23 at noon and the Kings on May 25 at 4 p.m.
OTTAWA JUNIOR A SENATORS (Central Canadian Hockey League champions)
How they qualified: The Senators are appearing at nationals for the second straight time, as they were the East region representatives when the tournament was last held in Brooks, Alta., in 2019.
The Senators swept the Hawkesbury Hawks in four straight games in the CCHL final this year. One game went to double overtime, another was decided in overtime and a third was a one-goal contest.
Ottawa was the class of the CCHL this season, as they finished with a 43-8-2-2 record and 90 points, 11 more than the Hawks.
Players to watch: Philippe Jacques led the Senators in scoring with 31 goals and 76 points in 52 games, and Julian Recine notched 25 goals and 72 points in 53 games.
In the playoffs, goaltenders William Desmarais and Zachary Bowen combined to go 12-1 with 21 goals against in 13 games. Desmarais appeared in 12 of the 13 contests.
Schedule: The Senators open the tournament at noon on May 20 against Dauphin. Further games are May 21 at noon against Flin Flon, May 23 at noon against the Thunderbirds and May 25 at noon against Summerside.
SUMMERSIDE WESTERN CAPITALS (Maritime Hockey League champions)
How they qualified: The Capitals, who won the Centennial Cup in 1997, are back at nationals for the first time since 2013, a year in which they lost to Brooks in the national final.
The Capitals, who are from Prince Edward Island, defeated the Truro Bearcats 4-1 in the best of seven final. Summerside outscored Truro 20-6 in the final.
The Capitals went 31-4-1-2 in the regular season, 10 points better than the runner-up Yarmouth Mariners (25-8-4-1).
Players to watch: Colby MacArthur finished with 18 goals and 75 points in 38 regular season games to pace the Capitals. Thomas Lacombe had 28 goals and 60 points. Meanwhile, Josh MacDonald had 31 goals and 59 points in 31 games, but most impressively, didn’t record a penalty minute.
Schedule: Summerside will open the tournament on May 20 against the Soo Thunderbirds. Subsequent games are May 22 at 4 p.m. against Dauphin, May 23 at 4 p.m. against Flin Flon and May 25 at noon against the Senators.