The biggest Centennial Cup ever proved to be a great success, not just because of the hockey that was played, but because of the impact on the community.
The national junior A hockey championship, presented by Tim Hortons, wrapped up Sunday with the Brooks Bandits defeating the Pickering Panthers 4-1 in the championship game. Brooks scored four times in the third period for the victory.
Ten teams entered the tournament this year, twice as many as in previous years. Round-robin games were played May 19-25, with three games each day, except for May 22, when two were contested.
Quarter-finals were played on Friday, the semifinals were Saturday and the final was Sunday.
Ethan Doyle had the lone goal in the opening 40 minutes, as he scored for Pickering 10:47 into the opening frame after a Panthers’ odd-man rush. The goal came against the flow of the play, as Brooks outshot the Panthers 28-4 through two periods.
Brooks had chances to score, but most were from the perimeter.
“I felt like we needed to do a few things differently, just in terms of how fast we played in their zone,” said Bandits’ head coach Ryan Papaioannou. “They slowed us down, they slowed the game down, and credit them for the game plan, because it worked. I felt like if we got one, we’d be completely fine, because they would have to change how they played and we might be able to break it open a little bit, but for the longest time, it didn’t look like we’d be able to get one.”
Brooks finally broke through on a goal by Aiden Fink 6:54 into the third period. Fourteen seconds later, Devin Phillips scored on a breakaway to give Brooks the lead.
Papaioannou didn’t think they would get the second goal that quickly.
“I think we were confident that if we got one, we’d be fine, and then for it to happen right away, I think our guys knew right away we could lock it down,” he said.
Ryan McAllister then scored twice in the final seven minutes of the third period to put the game away.
Brooks outshot Pickering 44-11. Zachary Roy (Pickering) and Ethan Barwick (Brooks) were in goal.
Brooks won the Centennial Cup as the host team when the tournament was last held in 2019. They also won the tournament in 2013. Brooks is now just the third team to win at least three championships, joining the B.C. Hockey League’s Vernon Lakers/Vipers, who won six championships from 1990-2010, and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders, who won four titles from 1977-1982 before joining the Western Hockey League.
Brooks was the class of the tournament from the outset, winning all six games they played and tallying 44 goals. They set a tournament record for most goals in a tournament, and twice matched the tournament’s single-game record for goals in a game with 11.
Papaioannou praised the community for their effort.
“The venue is incredible. I don’t know how many other places can host 10 teams. I know we certainly would love to in Brooks again, but we couldn’t do 10. This facility was awesome. From the ice maintenance all the way through to how they managed the practice schedules, it was great.”
It was nice to play against the champions of the different leagues and how they compare.
He thought Estevan did a great job of hosting the revamped tournament.
Boston Buckberger of Saskatoon was the lone Saskatchewan product on the team. He noted they have been together for nine months, and winning a national title was the best feeling he’s ever had.
Winning in Saskatchewan made it even more special.
“I have a lot of family here … and it’s just so cool to have them here and support me,” Buckberger said after the game.
He noted he played in Estevan when he was a kid, and it always amazed him that Estevan had a venue as good as Affinity Place.