Since the very first National Midget Championship in 1974, 23 different teams have won the national title, representing 21 different cities – from Burnaby, B.C., in the west to Ste-Foy, Que., in the east.
But none have come from Canada’s largest city.
The Toronto Young Nationals are out to change history in Moose Jaw, coming off a dominating playoff run that saw them lose just four of 23 postseason games to earn the Central Region berth.
“We want to put our best foot forward and show that Ontario has got some good hockey and hopefully we can get to the weekend,” Toronto head coach Brett Punchard told the Moose Jaw Times-Herald. “I think everyone will need to raise their game at this event in order for our team to be successful.”
It’s the first time a team from the Ontario capital has played at the TELUS Cup since the Toronto Jr. Canadiens – led by 2014 Olympic gold medallist Alex Pietrangelo – finished fourth at the 2006 tournament, and the first time the Young Nationals have qualified since a bronze-medal performance in 2001.
Toronto was the class of the Greater Toronto Hockey League in the regular season, finishing three points up on the Mississauga Rebels, thanks in large part to a 13-game unbeaten run (12-0-1) in midseason.
Despite finishing their schedule with just one victory in four games, the Young Nationals were rarely challenged in the GTHL playoffs; they swept the Toronto Titans, dropped just one game in a semifinal win over the Jr. Canadiens and won the first three games in the first-to-eight-points final against North York before finishing off the Rangers in six.
The Central Regional proved to be a tougher test for Toronto, which lost two of its first three and was in danger of watching the semifinals from the sidelines.
But a narrow 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators got the Young Nationals back to .500, and a 7-4 victory over the London Jr. Knights put Toronto into the weekend and set up a semifinal with the host Markham Waxers.
Markham had eked out a 2-1 win when the teams met in the preliminary round, but the Young Nationals made sure the semifinal wouldn’t be that close, scoring twice in the first period, twice in the second and twice in the third in a 6-1 rout that sent Toronto to the regional final.
The Young Nationals matched up with Ottawa, which had upset unbeaten Ajax/Pickering in its semifinal, with a TELUS Cup berth on the line, and erased a 2-0 deficit midway through the game, scoring four unanswered goals to claim the regional title and punch their ticket to Moose Jaw.
Toronto will try to keep up a run of success for Central Region teams at the TELUS Cup; Ontario entries have played in four of the last six gold medal games, tied with the West Region for the most during that stretch.
Included on that list is the last GTHL team to qualify, the Mississauga Reps, who reached the final at the 2010 TELUS Cup, backstopped by future Boston Bruins first-round draft pick Malcolm Subban.
HOW THEY GOT TO MOOSE JAW
Greater Toronto Hockey League
Quarter-final: defeated Toronto Titans 4-0 (4-3, 5-2, 5-2, 5-0)
Semifinal: defeated Toronto Jr. Canadiens 4-1-1 (2-2, 4-3, 1-3, 4-3, 3-0, 3-1)
GTHL championship: defeated North York 4-1-1 (3-1, 3-1, 4-2, 3-3, 1-3, 3-2)
Round robin: finished third at 3-2 (defeated Sudbury 3-1, lost to Ajax/Pickering 8-3, lost to Markham 2-1, defeated Ottawa 4-3, defeated London 7-4)
Semifinal: defeated Markham 6-1
Championship: defeated Ottawa 4-2
Record: 23-5-5 (1st in GTHL)
Goals For: 114 (2nd in GTHL)
Goals Against: 75 (6th in GTHL)
Longest Winning Streak: 7 (Dec. 7-Jan. 18)
Top 3 Scorers:
Goals For: 81
Goals Against: 52
Top 3 Scorers:
NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
2001 – Toronto Young Nationals | bronze medal | 4-3-0 | 23GF 27GA
PLAYERS TO WATCH
mature and focused … good balance in stand-up and butterfly … good overall positioning … communicates well with defencemen … moves well from post to post … control rebounds
dynamic offensive player … highly skilled … loves to compete … great hands … sees the ice incredibly well … very confident … a presence on the ice … high-level hockey sense … quick stick
finesse player … highly skilled … at his best from top of the circles in … nice touch with the puck … quick hands … reads the play well … good anticipation … consistent scorer … sees the ice well
OHL DRAFTED PLAYERS
Izzy Benigno – Kitchener 2013 (11th round, 213th overall)
Steve Harland – North Bay 2014 (6th round, 104th overall)