With only 22 days remaining before the 2003 Royal Bank Cup kicks off in Charlottetown, PE, 18 teams are still vying for an invitation to the prestigious National Junior “A” Hockey Championship.
Here is a look at how things are shaping up across Canada
Starting out west, in British Columbia, the Vernon Vipers had an impressive playoff run, going a perfect 12-0 in three straight series sweeps. In their first round, the Vipers downed the Penticton Panthers four games to none, then followed it with a four-game sweep of the Trail Smoke Eaters. The stage was set for a BCHL league championship series against the 2001-02 BCHL league champion and 2002 Royal Bank Cup participants, the Chilliwack Chiefs. The Vipers continued their playoff dominance with another four-game sweep, limiting the Chiefs to only five goals for in the four-game series. The Vipers now advance to the Doyle Cup, which will see them face-off against the Alberta Junior Hockey League winner.
In Alberta, things are heating up as the St. Albert Saints and Camrose Kodiaks are tied at two games apiece in the league championship series. The 2001 Royal Bank Cup champion Kodiaks recorded a thrilling 6-5 triple overtime win on home ice in game one. The Saints rebounded in game two with a 4-2 win, tying the series at one heading back to St. Albert. Game three saw the home town Saints earn a 5-4 victory over the Kodiaks, giving them a 2-1 series lead. Camrose fought back to tie the series in game four with an impressive 6-2 road win. Game five is set for April 11 in Camrose.
Moving along to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, the Humboldt Broncos earned a berth in the Anavet Cup by sweeping the Melville Millionaires in the league championship series. The Broncos have been on a roll in the 2002-03 playoffs, compiling a 12-2 record, including a first round series sweep of the Melfort Mustangs and a six-game round two series win over the Battlefords’ North Stars. The league championship was a hard fought series with the Broncos prevailing after three one-goal games.
For the fifth straight season, the OCN Blizzard was crowned Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions. The Blizzard, runners up at last year’s Royal Bank Cup in Halifax, NS, defended their title, knocking off the Dauphin Kings in four straight games in the first round, then proceeded to the Addison Division final against the Portage Terriers. Portage managed to hand OCN their first (and only) playoff loss but it wasn’t enough as the Blizzard won their division four game to one. In the championship series, OCN swept the Southeast Blades and advanced to the Anavet Cup.
Six teams remain in the hunt in Ontario. The Borderland Thunder have advanced to the Dudley Hewitt Cup after winning the Superior International Junior Hockey League league championship series in five games over the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs. The Bulldogs however, earned a berth in the regional championship, the Dudley-Hewitt Cup. The Soo Junior Greyhounds and North Bay Skyhawks are battling it out in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League championship series, which is tied at one game apiece with game three slated for April 10. The winner will advance to the Dudley-Hewitt Cup. The last two teams trying to advance to the Central regional are the Aurora Tigers and the Wellington Dukes. The Dukes recorded an overtime 5-4 game three win but still trail two games to one in the Ontario Provincial Junior “A” Hockey League championship series. Game four is set for April 10 in Aurora. When the Ontario Provincial Junior “A” Hockey League championship series concludes and the Superior International Junior Hockey League league championship series concludes, the Dudley-Hewitt Cup will feature the Borderland Thunder, the Thunder Bay KC Bulldogs, the winner of the Soo/North Bay series and the winner of the Aurora/Wellington series.
The Central Junior Hockey League has boiled down to a championship series between the Nepean Raiders and the Ottawa Junior Senators. Two close games have resulted in the series being tied at one game apiece, with Ottawa winning game one 3-2 and Nepean rebounding in game two with a 3-1 victory. The Junior Senators were participants in the 2002 Royal Bank Cup in Halifax, NS. The league winner will advance to play in the Eastern Regional, the Fred Page Cup. The Cornwall Colts, who were eliminated in the first round of the Central Junior Hockey League playoffs will host the 2003 Fred Page Cup and have a second chance to earn a berth in the 2003 Royal Bank Cup.
In Quebec, the Cougars de Lennoxville and the Collège Français de Longueuil are currently dueling in the league championship series, with the Cougars holding a 2-0 series lead. Game three is April 11 in Lennoxville. The winner of la Ligue de Hockey Junior AAA du Quebec will advance to the Fred Page Cup in Cornwall, ON, hoping to reach the 2003 Royal Bank Cup.
The host team for the 2003 Royal Bank Cup, the Charlottetown Abbies, have advanced to the Maritime Junior Hockey League championship series and are currently tied at one game each with the Amherst Ramblers. Game three is scheduled for April 10 in Charlottetown. The Abbies have cruised through the playoffs and are now in tough with the Ramblers. If the Abbies win, they will compete in the Fred Page Cup in Cornwall, ON. If so, then two teams would advance to the 2003 Royal Bank Cup from the Fred Page Cup. If the Ramblers win, they would advance to the Fred Page Cup, looking for a berth in the Royal Bank Cup.
As each day passes, the road to the 2003 Royal Bank Cup becomes clearer. Teams are fighting hard to remain in contention and earn a berth in the national championship, hoping to call themselves national champions when all is said and done.