The 2013 national champions want to add a second RBC Cup to their trophy case
The Brooks Bandits had the highest regular-season winning percentage among the five teams competing at the 2016 RBC Cup, and put together arguably the most impressive playoff run, but they’ll be the lone team in Lloydminster (other than the host Bobcats) without a regional title.
Brooks earned the West Region’s second berth in Canada’s National Junior A Championship after a loss to the West Kelowna Warriors in the Western Canada Cup final, their lone postseason setback in regulation time.
But the Bandits have something no other team competing in the Border City has – a national title.
Three years ago, Brooks hoisted the RBC Cup with a win over the host Western Capitals in Summerside, P.E.I., becoming the eighth Alberta Junior Hockey League team to win the national championship.
Now it’s made the 439-kilometre trip north to Lloydminster in search of title No. 2.
The Bandits finished the regular season as one of just nine teams across Canada with single-digit losses in regulation time, and their 49 wins were the second-best in team history, behind only the 53 victories by the RBC Cup-winning 2012-13 team.
But a 49-9-2 record wasn’t enough to top the AJHL; Brooks finished two points behind the Spruce Grove Saints, who claimed the Dave Duchak Trophy as regular-season champions for the sixth time in eight years.
The Bandits’ offence, though, was far and away No. 1. Brooks scored 306 goals in 60 games (its 5.1 goals per game was sixth-best in the country) and its +171 goal differential was 31 better than the Saints.
It spread around the points, with five players finishing among the top 20 in AJHL scoring; Dylan McCrory led the way with 70 points, good for sixth in the league, while Jared Cockrell (68), Ty Mappin (67), Derek Lodermeier (60), and Jeff Malott (60) also reached the 60-point mark.
And while Spruce Grove had the AJHL’s best defence, allowing 12 fewer goals than Brooks, the Bandits iced the league’s top goaltenders; Josh Davies, who played the majority of minutes through the end of December, led the AJHL with a 2.18 goals-against average in 39 appearances, just ahead of veteran netminder Garret Hughson, who posted a 2.23 GAA in 17 games after joining Brooks in early January.
The Bandits seemed to really hit their stride in late November. Sitting at a more-than-respectable 19-6-2 on Nov. 28, Brooks reeled off 17 consecutive wins and 28 victories in 29 games through the end of February.
And the hot streak didn’t end with the close of the regular season; after a 13-day layoff thanks to a first-round bye as South Division champions, the Bandits absolutely dominated the Canmore Eagles in the division semifinals, allowing just two goals (both in Game 3) in a four-game sweep.
They made it eight-straight postseason wins with a whitewashing of Camrose in the South Division final, outscoring the Kodiaks by a convincing 22-4 margin in the four games and setting up the Brooks-Spruce Grove final everyone had expected.
The Bandits and Saints didn’t disappoint, going to overtime in each of the first three games; Jesse Pereira and Parker Foo were the extra-period heroes for Brooks in Games 1 and 3, respectively, while Spruce Grove handed the Bandits their first loss of the playoffs with a double-OT win in between.
Brooks took control of the series with a 4-2 victory in Game 5, and closed out its second AJHL championship on the road in Game 6, denying the Saints a third-straight league title.
The next stop was Estevan, Sask., and the Western Canada Cup, where the Bandits became the first team in the four-year history of the tournament to win all four of its preliminary-round games, clinching a berth in the championship game in the process.
One win from a trip to the RBC Cup the Bandits fell into an early three-goal hole against the Warriors and couldn’t recover, dropping a 6-0 decision that sent them to the ‘second chance’ qualifying game against the defending national champions, the Portage Terriers.
Brooks wouldn’t be denied a second time, getting goals from Malott and Josh McKechney, and outlasting the Terriers 2-1 to confirm its spot in Lloydminster as the second West Region representative – the same path it took in 2013 when it won the RBC Cup.
With the Bobcats hosting the tournament, it marks the first time since the introduction of the host team in 1985 that two AJHL teams will appear at the same national championship.