When the Camrose Kodiaks host the 2011 RBC Cup beginning this weekend, they’ll be hoping to make a little of their own history and preventing the Vernon Vipers from making some of their own.
The BCHL’s Vipers won their third straight BCHL title this year before going on to win their third straight Doyle Cup over AJHL opponents – Grande Prairie, Spruce Grove and then the Saints again. In heartbreaking fashion, the Albertans were up 2-1 leaving Vernon, only to lose three of four at the Grant Fuhr Arena including a tight 4-2 Game 7 with an empty netter.
That brings the Vipers back to Alberta and a third straight RBC, and they are two-time defending champs.
“I don’t mind telling you I’m really disappointed (that Spruce Grove is not there),” said AJHL President Craig Cripps.
“That last game was a craps shoot, and to lose to them for the third year in a row, that’s tough. But they are a great team…very well coached,” he added.
Cripps says the lack of NHL playoff hockey in Alberta, combined with two AJHL RBC franchises in close proximity to both Calgary and Edmonton would have been ideal. Nevertheless, he says ticket sales are very strong.
Stopping Vernon could be a tall order, but the AJHL hosts Kodiaks are focussed on the job at hand, says head coach and GM Boris Rybalka.
“Vernon is a team that should never be underestimated and they showed that at the Doyle Cup,” says Rybalka.
“They are well coached and play a very smart game.”
The field for the tourney is again a formidable one. The Portage Terriers of the MJHL, no stranger to the event, return after an ANAVET Cup title, a seven-game tilt with the SJHL’s La Ronge Ice Dogs.
The Dudley Hewitt Cup crowned the Ontario champ, and it’s another team with RBC experience, the Wellington Dukes. The Dukes qualified in fine fashion, beating the Soo Eagles 3-2 in four overtimes in the semi-final and then came back the next day to beat the host Huntsville Otters 5-3 in the final.
The Fred Page Cup sends Eastern Canada’s rep (Ottawa area to the Maritimes) and it is once again a CJHL squad – the Pembroke Lumber Kings who beat Longueuil of the Quebec loop 6-3 in that final.
The teams will play a round-robin format with the fifth-place finisher eliminated.
The teams are reseeded based on round-robin points and one plays four and two plays three in the semi-finals with the winners facing off in Sunday’s final May 8 (check for updated time and TV coverage).
Ironically, the marquee match-up of the round-robin could very well lead off the schedule as the host Kodiaks take on the Vipers to get the tourney started this Saturday night.
Rybalka says his crew is ready to go.
“We have prepared the best way we could and that is with hard work. We gave the players a few days off after the Enerflex Cup final to rest them and recoup after some injuries,” he said.
“The rest has done wonders as most of the injuries are healed and the players will be ready to go.”
Hosting the marquee event is a proud moment for both the AJHL and the Kodiaks. While technically a Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) tourney, Cripps says having it in Alberta and in Camrose is a perfect fit.
“Camrose has a long history of hosting marquee hockey events like the Viking Cup and the World Junior A Challenge; they have great fans, I expect it to be a great event,” says Cripps.
Rybalka adds his club and community relish the opportunity.
“We are very proud to be the host of the 2011 RBC Cup and our goal is to bring a National Championship back to Camrose and Alberta,” he says.
“The support in the community and surrounding areas is amazing. From the volunteers to the sponsors and fans everyone has come aboard to make this the best ever RBC.”
Ticket sales have been the best ever for an RBC and the event will be a showcase for all of Alberta to be proud. Camrose has again stepped up to the plate and has made sure that all guests will be welcomed and will leave knowing that this is a great community and a great province, he says.
Should the Vipers win, they will be the first club in the history of the Canadian Junior A hockey championship – Centennial Cup and now RBC – to win three consecutive Canadian titles.
There are currently three clubs sitting on back-to-back titles: The current Viper crop (2009 over Humboldt Broncos, 2010 over Dauphin Kings); Vernon Lakers of 1990 (New Westminster Royals) and 1991 (Sudbury Cubs); and the Orillia Travelways of 1984 (Weyburn Red Wings) and 1985 (Penticton Knights).
A win at the RBC would give Vernon seven national titles, the most of any one community. And a Vernon team has never lost a championship final game.
Rybalka says he has lots of respect for Vernon and the other clubs but it’s all about maintaining his club’s focus.
“We have prepared our players so that they know it is Game 7 every game. That is how we prepared them throughout the year. You cannot afford to have a bad game or lose the wrong game because you might be out,” he said.
So the task at hand is a simple one, at least from a focal point, says Rybalka.
“Our expectations, simple – National Champions”