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Centennial Cup hockey tournament has a rich history

Many great NHL players have competed at the tournament.
Centennial Cup History pic
The Centennial Cup will begin play on May 19 in Estevan.

ESTEVAN - It’s been more than 50 years since the Centennial Cup was first awarded.

Regardless of the name or the format, winning the championship has always been incredibly difficult, making it so meaningful to its champions.

According to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's website, the tournament was initially known as the Manitoba Centennial Cup, as the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association presented the trophy to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association in 1970, which was Manitoba’s centennial year in Confederation. The cup was to be the championship for junior A hockey in Canada.

Alberta’s Red Deer Rustlers defeated the Charlottetown Islanders from Prince Edward Island to win the first championship. 

It has also gone through a number of formats, including both a best-of competition with two finalists, to a tournament, which has been used since 1986. In 1990, it became a five-team competition, with four regional champions and the host team.

At the 1996 tournament in Melfort, the competition had a sponsor for the first time and became known as the Royal Bank Cup. Royal Bank maintained naming rights for the competition until after the 2018 event, when it once again became known as the Centennial Cup. In 2019, Hockey Canada announced that Tim Hortons would be the presenting sponsor for the event.

The 2020 and 2021 tournaments were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the tournament in Estevan will be the first with Tim Hortons as a presenting sponsor. 

This year’s tournament marks the first time that it will be a 10-team showdown. Rather than having the regional playdowns, the representatives of each of the nine leagues within the Canadian Junior Hockey League will join the host Estevan Bruins for the tournament. Since the Bruins won the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League title, the league runner-up, the Flin Flon Bombers, will be the SJHL representatives.

The Vernon Lakers/Vipers have won the most championships in the history of the tournament with six, all coming between 1990 and 2010. The Prince Albert Raiders are next at four, with all of them coming from 1977 and 1982. The Raiders joined the Western Hockey League after the 1982 title.

Nine teams have won the tournament twice, including the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits, who won the tournament when it was last held in 2019. Also holding two championships are the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos and Weyburn Red Wings.

British Columbia has won the most championships with 14. Ontario is next with 11, with several leagues contributing to that total. Saskatchewan has won 10 and Alberta has captured nine.

Host teams have won the tournament four of the past five years. 

Numerous future NHL stars have played in the tournament as well. Cale Makar, who is a finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy for the best defenceman in the NHL for the second straight year, was the MVP of both the 2016 and 2017 tournaments while playing for Brooks, making him the only player to win the MVP award twice. Among the other notables are Rod Brind’Amour (1988 with the Notre Dame Hounds), James Patrick (1981 with Prince Albert) and Brent Sutter (1980 with Red Deer). 

And dozens of future NHL players have competed in the tournament, including Scott Gomez, Craig Hartsburg, Curtis Joseph, Willie Mitchell, Joe Murphy and Doug Risebrough. Rich and Ron Sutter played with their brother Brent in 1980.