The Road to the 2011 RBC Cup is complete. Eight months ago, 137 teams, from Port Alberni, B.C., to Woodstock, N.B., began the 2010-11 season with dreams of being crowned national Junior A champions at the Edgeworth Centre on May 8. Now, just five remain.
Here’s a look at who will be in Camrose:
CENTRAL REGION – WELLINGTON DUKES
The OJHL’s No. 2 seed entering the postseason, the Dukes rolled through the league’s playoffs with relatively ease, never trailing in any of their four series, and dropping only four games in wins over Upper Canada, Villanova, Stouffille and Oakville, the defending league champions. A perennial contender, the league title is just the second for the Dukes, who were OJHL champions in 2003, when they lost to Humboldt in the RBC Cup semifinals.
At the Dudley Hewitt Cup in Huntsville, Ont., the Dukes looked to be well on their way to Camrose with 7-2 and 7-1 wins over Wisconsin (SIJHL) and Soo (NOJHL), but the host Otters forced Wellington to play a semifinal, winning 3-2 in double overtime to earn the automatic bye to the final. Unlike their round robin meeting with Soo the Dukes didn’t walk away with an easy victory, needing a Sean Rudy goal midway through the fourth extra period to advance.
Returning to the ice just 16 hours after Rudy’s heroics, Wellington kept pace with the rested Otters for two period before Darcy Greenaway and Joe Zarbo scored goals in the third period to give the Dukes the Central Region championship and book their ticket to Camrose, where they’ll look to become just the third Central team to win the national title since the start of the five-team format in 1990.
EAST REGION – PEMBROKE LUMBER KINGS
For the fifth year in a row the Lumber Kings hoisted the Bogart Cup as CCHL champions, but this marks only their second trip to the National Junior A Championship in that stretch. After a regional title in 2007, Pembroke lost the Fred Page Cup final in 20, and fell in the semifinal in 2009. But thanks to a high-powered offence, there would be no coming up short in 2011.
After averaging just over five goals per game in their run to the CCHL title, the Lumber Kings doubled that to open the Fred Page Cup in Terrebonne, Que., racking up 20 in wins over LHJAAAQ champion Longueuil (11-3) and MHL titlist Summerside (9-5). A loss to the host Cobras in its final round robin contest didn’t hurt Pembroke, which earned a bye to the final by finishing atop the standings thanks to its impressive +11 goal differential in three games.
Matching up with Longueuil once again in the championship game, the Lumber Kings took a 5-1 lead with four unanswered goals in a stretch of 7:50 over the first and second periods en route to a 6-3 victory and the team’s sixth trip to the national championship. Pembroke finished as runner-up in 19 in the days of the East vs. West best-of-seven final and were semifinalists in 1987, 19.
PACIFIC REGION – VERNON VIPERS
They’re back. The two-time defending national champions will take to the ice in Camrose looking for their seventh national title – only one other team, the Prince Albert Raiders, has won more than two. The Vipers were comeback kids in the BCHL playoffs – they trailed Westside 2-1 in the second round and were down 2-0 to Salmon Arm in the Interior Conference final going on the road – but saved their best for the Doyle Cup.
After opening the Pacific Regional series victory – their ninth in a row dating back to the Salmon Arm series – the Vipers dropped Games 2 and 3 to Spruce Grove on home ice, sending the series back to Alberta, where the Saints had lost just five times in 37 regular season playoff games. Vernon took Games 4 and 5 to put itself on the brink of a third straight trip to the RBC Cup, but the Saints, who sat atop the national rankings for much of the season, forced a deciding Game 7.
A 2-0 Vernon lead was erased by a pair of special teams goals by the Saints – one on the power play and one shorthanded. The game stayed even until the dying minutes of the third period, when Vipers captain David Robinson poked home a loose puck for the game-winner in an eventual 4-2 victory, making Vernon the first team to qualify for three straight national championships since the 1989-92 Vernon Lakers, who went to four in a row.
WEST REGION – PORTAGE TERRIERS
One of three teams in this year’s field to previously win a national championship – Vernon and Camrose are the others – the Terriers head west to Alberta looking to add an RBC Cup to the Centennial Cup they won in 1973. After a tense opening round against Swan Valley, where the Terriers needed double overtime to win each of the first two games, lost the next two and finally dispatched the Stampeders in five, they ended the reign of Dauphin and topped Selkirk in the league final, winning Portage’s third Turnbull Cup in four years.
Opening the ANAVET Cup on home ice against La Ronge, the Terriers quickly jumped out to a 2-0 series lead before dropping Games 3 and 4 in northern Saskatchewan as the Ice Wolves evened up the series. Portage scored the series’ first road win in Game 5, but La Ronge’s 1-0 victory in Game 6 back in Portage ensured the back-and-forth West Region championship would go the distance.
A tense seventh game didn’t see its first goal until Shaquille Merasty’s marker for Portage with three minutes to go in the second period, despite the fact the Terriers outshot La Ronge 24-10 in the first 40 minutes. The Harms brothers, Tanner and Brendan, and Kyle Turgeon provided insurance in the third as Portage earned a 4-0 victory and confirmed its entry into the National Junior A Championship for the first time since 2005.
HOST TEAM – CAMROSE KODIAKS
The host Kodiaks are no stranger to the national championship – they were the most successful team of the 2000s, making five appearances in an eight-year stretch, although they have just one national title (2001) to show for it. Camrose had an off year by its standards, finishing third in the AJHL’s South Division, but put together yet another memorable playoff run.
A four-game win over the Drumheller Dragons set up a quarter-final match-up with Brooks, which had finished seven points up on the Kodiaks and enjoyed a first-round bye. Camrose sat on the edge of elimination after a four-overtime loss in Game 5, but came back to win the series in seven games and advance to the South Division final against Okotoks, who finished the regular season as the No. 3 team in Canada. The Oilers jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, again forcing the Kodiaks to play for their playoff lives, but Camrose fought back, winning its third, fourth and fifth elimination games to vanquish Okotoks in seven games and move on to the league final.
The run would end there, however, as the Kodiaks fell in five games to the Spruce Grove Saints, who repeated as AJHL champions. Camrose’s attention now turns to the RBC Cup, where it will hope to be the first host team since Weyburn in 2005 to win the national title. Of the 21 host teams since the start of the six-team format in 1990, only six have won it all, and two of those were from Alberta – Olds in 1994 and Fort McMurray in 2000.