COBOURG, ON – The powerhouse campaign of the 2016-17 Brooks Bandits came to an end in heartbreaking fashion on Sunday night, as a 2-1 lead over the 2017 RBC Cup host Cobourg Cougars evaporated late, leading to a 3-2 overtime win for the host team in the championship final.
Coming off a 4-0 win over the Terrebonne Cobras in Saturday’s late semifinal, the Bandits allowed the opening goal of the game when a defensive zone turnover led to a pass across by Connor MacEachern to Jamie Huber, whose shot from the right circle beat Mitch Benson (Windsor, ON) for his first point of the tournament and a 1-0 Cobourg lead just 3:56 into the game. It snapped a shutout streak of nearly 170 minutes for Benson.
But the Bandits got the equalizer just under five minutes later, when a series of chances by Parker Foo (Edmonton, AB) from the left circle produced a rebound for Conner Jean (Oakland, MI) at the right side of the Cougar net. While falling to the ice, Jean backhanded the loose puck in to knot the game up at 1-1.
A scoreless second saw the Bandits outshoot the Cougars 13-7, holding a 26-11 shot lead after the opening two periods were done, but neither Benson nor Cobourg goalie Stefano Durante yielded any further goals until the third.
With 8:31 left in the game, Cale Makar (Calgary, AB) fed a puck to the side of the Cobourg net where captain Nick Prkusic (Medicine Hat, AB) was able to make a nifty spinaround move to the net front and jam a point blank shot by Durante to give Brooks the late 2-1 lead.
But after killing off a late power play, the Bandits saw that lead disappear when a point shot by Brennan Roy was tipped past Benson by Ryan Casselman to make it 2-2 with just 1:07 left in the game, forcing the final to overtime.
A fairly even extra frame saw shots tied 5-5 before the sixth Cobourg shot ended the tournament. A mid-blue line one-timer by Nick Minerva found the back of the Bandit net top shelf, sending the Cougars, who had earlier been eliminated in their OJHL division final by Trenton, streaming off the bench as national champions.
It caps off one of the most dominant years for a team in AJHL history, with the Bandits recording a combined record that featuring a whopping 71 wins, just 6 regulation losses, and six overtime or shootout losses. The Bandits have now won 4 of the last 6 AJHL championships and appeared in 3 of the last 5 RBC Cups.
The game also caps off the Bandit careers of several players who will go on to be remembered well:
Benson’s acquisition in late October began a sensational year where he was the team’s Most Valuable Player, and led to a scholarship to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks for next season.
Defenceman Charlie Marchand provided three years of spectacular defensive play, reliable leadership, and parlayed his talents into his upcoming NCAA career with Bentley University.
Defenceman Joe O’Connor returned from off-season surgery in the new year and reclaimed his place as one of the league’s top point-producing defencemen, and will be heading to Quinnipiac University in the fall.
Defenceman Kord Pankewicz arrived mid-season from the WHL and became one of the team’s most reliable penalty killers, whose abilities as a top veteran defenceman continued to improve into the post-season.
Cale Makar wowed the country and brought attention to the franchise like never before as his NHL draft stock shot up throughout the year. His cavalcade of honours will be capped off with a draft selection this summer followed by his NCAA debut with the University of Massachusetts.
Josh McKechney put together two sensational seasons: as co-rookie of the year last season, and one of the AJHL’s most dangerous forwards this season, with fantastic defensive responsibility making him a top centre who will be a force for Colgate University beginning in the fall.
Nick Prkusic became the model for the franchise’s ability to develop players, earning his way onto the team from Midget AAA in Medicine Hat and within three seasons becoming a prototypical power forward and widely admired leader, who will be an incredible asset to Robert Morris University next season.
Oliver Chau lit the league on fire with his rookie of the year campaign, setting a new franchise record for power play goals that eclipsed one of the Bandits’ most famous alumni in Curtis Glencross. He will attend the University of Massachusetts alongside Makar.
Parker Foo became a massive fan favourite in Brooks after signing with the team before last season’s AJHL Showcase. From an energetic, speedy penalty killing specialist, he turned into an all-around offensive catalyst who ended up with 50 goals total through the season and post-season, a talent with which Union College will be delighted next year.
Finally, Ty Mappin added to his claim to being one of the biggest trade acquisitions in Bandit history, setting a new franchise record for assists with 68 this regular season, and developing into a key veteran leader while maintaining his consistent scoring prowess.
The 2017-18 season is expected to begin in late August.