From 143 teams to six, the Road to the TELUS Cup is complete. Almost three months after the first playoff puck dropped, the field for this year’s National Midget Championship, which kicks off next Monday at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw, Sask., is set.
Here’s a look at who will be in Moose Jaw:
HOST TEAM – MOOSE JAW GENERALS
The long wait is almost over for the host Generals, who have not played since losing Game 4 of their first-round Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League series against Regina on March 7, a span of 45 days by the time the puck drops to open the TELUS Cup.
Although it started the regular season slowly, Moose Jaw found its stride in mid-November, running off a season-high 13-game unbeaten streak (9-0-4) from Nov. 17 to Jan. 9. The Generals finished fourth in the tightly-bunched SMAAAHL standings before their first-round exit at the hands of the Pat Canadians.
Moose Jaw will be in tough at the national championship; only three host teams have won the gold medal since the start of the six-team format in 1984, and none since the Calgary Northstars claimed the national title in 1991.
ATLANTIC REGION – HALIFAX MCDONALD’S
A return to the McDonald’s name meant a return to Canada’s National Midget Championship for Halifax, which made three of its four appearances at nationals as the Halifax McDonald’s (1980, 1983, 1994); it also represented the Atlantic Region as the Halifax Titans in 2011.
Regular season champions of the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League thanks in large part to a 13-game winning streak to open the season and an 11-game run near the end of its schedule, Halifax dropped just five of 17 postseason games to win the league title before rolling through the Atlantic Regional with a perfect 5-0 mark, capped off by a 5-4 victory over Saint John to book its ticket west.
Halifax has never won a medal in its four previous trips, finishing as high as fourth in 1980. An Atlantic team has yet to win the TELUS Cup; the Dartmouth Subways, led by 14-year-old Sidney Crosby, won silver in 2002 in the region’s lone gold medal game appearance.
CENTRAL REGION – TORONTO YOUNG NATIONALS
Thirteen years after winning a bronze medal in Prince George, B.C., the Toronto Young Nationals are back at Canada’s National Midget Championship, trying to win the first Midget title for Canada’s largest city.
The class of the Greater Toronto Hockey League in the regular season, Toronto used a 13-game unbeaten run in midseason to take first place, and was even better in the GTHL playoffs, losing just two of 16 games to claim the league title. Sitting at 1-2 midway through the Central Regional, the Young Nationals ran off four wins in a row, routing host Markham 6-1 in the semifinals before a 4-2 victory over Ottawa sent them to Moose Jaw.
Toronto will look to continue a run of success for Central Region teams at the TELUS Cup; Ontario teams have played in four of the last six gold medal games, although Sudbury’s 2008 national title is the lone gold medal from that group, and is the only national championship ever won by the region.
PACIFIC REGION – OKANAGAN ROCKETS
The giant-killers of Canadian Midget hockey this season, the Okanagan Rockets are just the fifth B.C. team to win its way into Canada’s National Midget Championship since 1984, and will make their first-ever appearance at the TELUS Cup in Moose Jaw.
The No. 2 team in the B.C. Major Midget League during the regular season, the Rockets swept the Vancouver NW Giants on the road in the BCMML final, ending the Giants’ run of five consecutive league titles, before knocking off the two-time defending TELUS Cup champions from Red Deer, again on the road, to claim the Pacific Region crown.
Okanagan will look to end a long drought by B.C. teams at the national championship; the province has won just one gold medal in the tournament’s 40-year history, and the national title won by the Burnaby Winter Club in 1982 came in B.C.’s lone appearance in the gold medal game.
QUEBEC REGION – GRENDAIERS DE CHÂTEAUGUAY
The last team to book its spot at the TELUS Cup, the Grenadiers are returning to Canada’s National Midget Championship for the first time since they won the bronze medal in 2006, when they were known as the Patriotes de Châteauguay.
Owners of the Ligue de hockey midget AAA du Québec’s fourth-best record in the regular season, the Grenadiers’ playoff run was helped by five overtime wins in as many tries and a 8-2 road record, including four victories away from home in the LHMAAAQ final against Collège Esther-Blondin, when the visiting team won each of the seven games.
Despite winning seven all-time gold medals, second-most among the five regions, Quebec hasn’t claimed the national title since Ste-Foy in 2001, and has just three gold medal game appearances in the 12 tournaments since, with nine losses in the semifinals.
WEST REGION – PRINCE ALBERT MINTOS
The longest winning streak in the history of Canada’s National Midget Championship will be on the line when Prince Albert faces off in Moose Jaw; the Mintos have won their last 14 games at the TELUS Cup, going 7-0 in 2006 and 2007 to become just the second team ever to win back-to-back gold medals.
After finishing third in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League during the regular season, the Mintos were swept by Battlefords in the semifinals. But Prince Albert got hot at the West Regional on home ice, capped by a 4-3 win over the SMAAAHL champion Notre Dame Argos to claim the regional championship.
After seven gold medals – and eight appearances in the final – in an eight-year stretch from 2004-11, the West Region has gone back-to-back years without playing for the national title, the first such drought since 2000-01. But the region still has a comfortable lead in all-time gold medals with 15, more than double second-place Quebec (seven).