For the past two seasons, the Alberta Junior Hockey League hasn’t had a representative at the Royal Bank Cup.
This year they have a chance for two.
With a convincing 9-3 victory over the defending national champion Portage Terriers on Wednesday night, the Brooks Bandits booked their spot in the Western Canada Cup final tomorrow night, before finishing off the round robin on Thursday with a 6-4 victory over the Estevan Bruins to go undefeated in four round robin games.
Other than the fact the Bandits now get to play for the Western Canada Cup, it also means Brooks has two chances to reach the RBC Cup tournament. To do so, Brooks would need to win one of their next two possible games, as a loss on Saturday to the West Kelowna Warriors would send the Bandits to Sunday’s game against the winner of either Portage or the Melfort Mustangs, with the winner gaining the second entry from the west into the national junior A championship.
Or Brooks could just do what they have done all tournament and win on Saturday night. And with the RBC Cup schedule already in place, they would open the national tournament against a familiar foe and fellow AJHL team, the Lloydminster Bobcats on May 14.
Either way, Brooks gaining entry to the RBC Cup would be the first time in history that two teams from Alberta have played in the tournament in the same year.
Brooks defeated West Kelowna earlier in the Western Canada Cup 4-2, coming from behind down 2-1 after the first period to earn the victory. With 22 goals for, they are the highest scoring team in the tournament, while they have only given up nine goals in four games.
A lot of that has to do with a power play that has scored 28.57 per cent of the time on 21 chances, while the penalty kill has allowed just one goal, despite being a tournament high 25 time short handed.
Garret Hughson’s 1.67 goals against average has led the way for the Bandits, while seven different players have score two goals or more for distribution of offence. It’s how they played in the AJHL as well, as seven players each played at a point per game pace.
While the AJHL always knew they would have at least one team in the RBC Cup, due in part because Lloydminster is playing host this year, having two would be a welcomed surprise.
Last year, Fort McMurray hosted the Western Canada Cup, while the Spruce Grove Saints won the Gas Drive Cup. It would seem likely that at least one AJHL team would make the RBC Cup, but Spruce Grove lost all four games in the western regional tournament, while Fort McMurray lost a close semi-final matchup to Melfort in a year where the top 3 gained entry to the national tournament due to Portage being in the tournament and hosting the RBC Cup as well.
Brooks is also the last AJHL team to win the RBC Cup, doing so in 2013. Before that, an AJHL team hadn’t won since doing so back-to-back in 2000 (Fort McMurray) and 2001 (Camrose). Having two out of five teams gives the league a good shot at bringing a national championship back to the province of Alberta, and the Bandits definitely have the pedigree to do so, considering they could also be the only AJHL team to have won the Western Canada Cup.
It could be a historic night on Saturday if the Bandits do indeed claim the western title. But you can rest assure, the prize they want awaits them in Lloydminster.
By Andrew Brethauer