From 128 teams to five, the Road to the RBC Cup is complete. More than three months after the first playoff puck dropped, the field for this year’s National Junior A Championship, which kicks off Saturday at Kal Tire Place in Vernon, B.C., is set.
Here’s a look at who will be in Vernon:
HOST TEAM – VERNON VIPERS
It’s familiar territory for the Vipers, who are making their record 10th appearance at Canada’s National Junior A Championship in search of their seventh national title. To put Vernon’s success into perspective, only three other teams (Weyburn, Pembroke and Camrose) have six appearances, let alone six championships.
The Vipers had an up-and-down regular season that left them in third place in the Interior Division, but knocked off the two teams ahead of them, West Kelowna and Penticton, to win the division title, and finished atop the semifinal round robin to earn a spot in the B.C. Hockey League final. But hopes of entering the RBC Cup through the front door ended with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Coquitlam Express.
Since a host team was added in 1985, only seven hosts have won the national championship on home ice, but Vernon is one of them; then known as the Lakers, the team beat New Westminster 6-5 in overtime to hoist the Centennial Cup in 1990.
EAST REGION – CARLETON PLACE CANADIANS
Just five years after joining the ranks of Junior A hockey, the Canadians will play for a national championship; Carleton Place played more than 30 years as a Junior B team in the Eastern Ontario Junior Hockey League before making the jump to the Central Canada Hockey League in 2009.
The Canadians rewrote the CCHL record book during the regular season, breaking league records for wins and points in a season thanks to a 54-6-2 record and leading the league in goals for, goals against and power play efficiency. Carleton Place had a slight hiccup in the semifinals, erasing a 3-2 series deficit to knock off Pembroke, but posted a 16-4 postseason record to win the CCHL championship and Fred Page Cup.
The Canadians are trying to become the second CCHL team in four years to win Canada’s National Junior A Championship; the Pembroke Lumber Kings lifted the RBC Cup in 2011, beating Vernon in the final to deny the Vipers what would have been their third consecutive national title.
CENTRAL REGION – TORONTO LAKESHORE PATRIOTS
No team had a longer road to the RBC Cup than the Patriots; Toronto Lakeshore had to play 24 games over 67 days to qualify for Canada’s National Junior A Championship for the first time in the brief six-year history of the franchise.
The Patriots finished the regular season with the OJHL’s third-best record, sitting atop the South Division and South West Conference by comfortable margins, before rolling through the OJHL playoffs; Toronto Lakeshore lost just one game in three rounds to reach the final, and dispatched Aurora in six games for its first league crown. Four wins in five games at the Dudley Hewitt Cup, capped by a victory over OJHL rival Wellington in the final, booked a trip to Vernon.
History is not on the side of the Patriots. Since the start of the RBC Cup era in 1996, 12 Ontario Junior Hockey League teams have reached the national championship, but only two have appeared in the final – Aurora won the national title in 2003 and 2007.
WEST REGION #1 – YORKTON TERRIERS
One year after falling just a single win short of an RBC Cup berth, the Terriers are at Canada’s National Junior A Championship, making their fifth all-time appearance; Yorkton is the ninth team to play in at least five RBC Cups, but is the only team in that group to never win the national title.
The Terriers claimed the SJHL regular season title for the first time since 1995-96 thanks to the league’s best offence and best defence, and went 12-2 to win their second consecutive league championship. Yorkton survived the preliminary round at the Western Canada Cup with a 2-2 record, including a season-saving 4-1 win over Coquitlam, and beat host Dauphin in the final to confirm its spot in Vernon.
Yorkton will see a familiar face at the RBC Cup; in three of their previous four appearances (1991, 1996, 1999), the Terriers have faced the Vernon Vipers, with the Vipers winning three of four games between the teams, and the national title all three years.
WEST REGION #2 – DAUPHIN KINGS
The Kings made a little bit of RBC Cup history on the way to Vernon; Dauphin is the first non-host team to play at Canada’s National Junior A Championship without winning either their league championship or regional championship.
The MJHL’s third-best team during the regular season, the Kings rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs with four-game sweeps, not allowing OCN to score a single goal in their quarter-final series, before falling to Winnipeg in the MJHL final. Hosting the Western Canada Cup, Dauphin posted the preliminary round’s best record, and, after a loss to Yorkton in the final, erased a 3-1 third-period deficit to beat Spruce Grove and earn the West Region’s second RBC Cup berth.
The Kings are into the national championship for the second time, and will face a familiar opponent; Vernon and Dauphin faced off twice when Dauphin hosted the 2010 RBC Cup – the Kings scored a 6-5 overtime victory in the preliminary round, but the Vipers got the win that mattered, routing Dauphin 8-1 in the final.
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