The Road to the 2011 TELUS Cup is complete. More than two months after the first playoff puck dropped, all six spots have been filled for this year’s National Midget Championship, which kicks off in less than two weeks at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, N.L.
Here’s a look at who will be on The Rock:
ATLANTIC REGION – HALIFAX TITANS
Atlantic Canada’s largest city is back in the national championship for the first time since 1994, when the Halifax McDonald’s finished fifth in Brandon, Man. Not only had it been 17 years since Halifax played for a national title, it had been 17 years since a team from Halifax won the Nova Scotia championship, which the Titans did in six hard-fought games against the Dartmouth Ice Dawgs.
At the Atlantic Regional in Charlottetown, P.E.I., the Titans posted wins over Cornwall, Fredericton and the host Islanders, wrapping up a berth in the championship game by the end of Day 2. After the St. John’s Privateers clinched their own spot in the final the Titans knew they were TELUS Cup bound regardless of the outcome of their games against the Privateers in the round robin – which they lost, 5-3 – and Sunday’s championship game – which they won, 4-3.
The Titans will look for Halifax’s first medal round berth since 1980, when the McDonald’s lost to the North Shore Winter Club in the bronze medal game, and try to end the Atlantic Region’s nine-year run without an appearance in the gold medal game.
CENTRAL REGION – LONDON JR. KNIGHTS
The sixth time was the charm for the Jr. Knights, who had appeared in five of the last seven Central Regionals without earning a spot in the national championship. As the Central host, London knew it didn’t have to win the Alliance title, but a pair of three-game sweeps and a six-game win over Waterloo allowed the Jr. Knights to enter to the regional tournament through the front door.
An 11-0 rout of Nickel City was followed by a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Jr. 67’s to leave the Jr. Knights at 1-1, but that would be the last game London would lose. The Jr. Knights rolled through their final four preliminary round games, outscoring the opposition 16-3, and hammered Nickel City again, this time 6-2, in the semifinal to book a spot in the regional final for the first time since 2008. In the championship game, London would avenge its lone loss with a 4-1 win over the Jr. 67’s, sending the Jr. Knights to the first TELUS Cup in their program’s history.
London will be fighting history in St. John’s – only three Alliance teams have ever played at the National Midget Championship and none were able to escape the round robin basement, winning just one of a combined 15 games.
PACIFIC REGION – VANCOUVER NORTH WEST GIANTS
One year after coming within a goal of qualifying for the TELUS Cup the Giants will make the trip east as Pacific Region champions, the first team from B.C. to win the regional title since Prince George in 2001. Vancouver NW claimed yet another B.C. Major Midget League title with a two-game sweep over the Cariboo Cougars, giving it another crack at the Red Deer Optimist Rebels, who repeated as Alberta champions.
With home-ice advantage this year the Giants rolled to a convincing 7-2 win in the regional series opener, putting them in the driver’s seat for the trip to St. John’s. A pair of second-period goals put Vancouver NW up 2-0 in Game 2, and it held off a furious Red Deer rally in the third period to secure a 3-1 victory and book its spot at the National Midget Championship.
The Giants will make their second TELUS Cup appearance in five years, having finished fourth as Pacific Region representative in 2007, when host Red Deer won the Alberta championship and the regional title. This year marks 15 years since a B.C. team won a medal at the national championship – North Kamloops took bronze in 1996.
QUEBEC REGION – LIONS DU LAC ST-LOUIS
After coming up a few wins short in 2010 – the Lions lost in five games to College Antoine-Girouard in the LHMAAAQ final – Lac St-Louis is returning to the National Midget Championship for the first time since winning the last of its three national crowns in 1992. The Lions are one of the most successful teams in tournament history, winning medals in all five of their appearances (three gold, two silver), and are one of only four teams to win at least three national titles (1981, 1985, 1992).
Third-place finishers in the LHMAAAQ during the regular season, the Lions powered through the first three rounds of the playoffs, losing just one of 10 games in wins over Gatineau, Châteauguay and Saint-Eustache, advancing to a championship series showdown Collège Notre-Dame, which finished just a single point ahead of the Lions during the regular season. A highly-anticipated match-up between two of the league’s top teams quickly turned into a one-sided affair, as the Lions outscored the Albatros 17-7 in winning the first three games before prevailing in five.
Not only will Lac St-Louis have to contend with the pressures of possibly becoming just the third team to win four national championships – joining Regina and Notre Dame – it will be carry the weight of trying to extend one of the most impressive streaks in Canadian hockey – Quebec’s 22-year run of semifinal appearances.
WEST REGION – WINNIPEG THRASHERS
The Thrashers are back at the TELUS Cup for the third time in four years, having lost in the gold medal game in 2008 before finishing fourth as the host team one year later. Winnipeg was the class of Manitoba this season, winning the league’s regular season and playoff titles, losing just two of 11 games in series wins over Pembina Valley, Brandon and Southwest.
In Moose Jaw, Sask., for the West Regional, the Thrashers did something they couldn’t do in their previous trip in 2008 – beat the Saskatchewan champions in the round robin. A 3-1 victory over Prince Albert kicked off an unbeaten preliminary round for Winnipeg, which beat Thunder Bay 6-5 to clinch a spot in the final before settling for a 2-2 tie with the host Generals. Matched up with the Mintos in the championship game, the Thrashers allowed the game’s first goal before scoring four unanswered and booking their TELUS Cup ticket.
Winnipeg is following in big footsteps in St. John’s – the West Region champion has won six of the last seven national titles. The only West team not to take home the top prize in that span? The Thrashers, in 2008.
HOST TEAM – ST. JOHN'S PRIVATEERS
The Privateers came within a goal of equaling the feat of the 2007 Red Deer Optimist Rebels – winning league and regional championships as TELUS Cup hosts. St. John’s ran roughshod over Newfoundland & Labrador competition, going 34-5 during the regular season and playoffs combined to take the NLMMHL championship and head to Charlottetown, P.E.I., for the Atlantic Regional, where St. John’s was defending champion.
Wins over Fredericton, Charlottetown, Cornwall and Halifax left the Privateers in first place after the round robin, all the more impressive because St. John’s had to play twice on the final day of preliminary action, knocking off fellow unbeaten Halifax just hours after beating Cornwall. Matched up with the Titans in the championship game – a contest solely for Atlantic bragging rights, since both were already assured of trips to the TELUS Cup – the Privateers came out on the short end of a 4-3 score, denying them the chance to win back-to-back Atlantic titles for the first time since 20.
St. John’s faces a number of questions at the National Midget Championship. Can it become the first Atlantic team to medal in consecutive years? Can it become only the second Atlantic team to appear in the semifinals in consecutive years? Can it become the first host team since Calgary in 1991 – and the first Atlantic team ever – to win the national title?