From 142 teams to five, the field for the 2008 RBC Cup, Canada’s National Junior A Championship, is set.
Beginning May 3rd at the Civic Centre in Cornwall, ON, the champions of four regions will join the host Cornwall Colts in a quest to become the national champions, something previously accomplished by three of the five teams taking to the ice this week.
Here is a look at the contenders:
CAMROSE KODIAKS – PACIFIC REGION
PREVIOUS APPEARANCES – 4 (won national championship in 2001, was runner-up in 2003, was runner-up in 2005, lost in semi-final in 2007)
They’re back! For the second year in a row, and the fifth time in eight seasons, the Camrose Kodiaks are going to play for Canada’s National Junior A Championship. Camrose was a runaway winner in the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2007-08, finishing with 103 points – just one off the franchise record set in 2004-05. The offence had an off year by Kodiaks’ standards, scoring 240 goals, which was still good for third in the AJHL. Joe Colborne was the runner-up in the AJHL scoring race, with 90 points in 55 games, and co-led the league with 57 assists. The defence was the big story, setting a franchise record by allowing just 139 goals, tying the fourth-best mark in AJHL history. Not surprisingly, Camrose goaltenders were among the league leaders, with Mathieu Larochelle finishing first with a 2.11 goals against average and Allen York not far behind in third, at 2.24.
CORNWALL COLTS – HOST TEAM
PREVIOUS APPEARANCES – 1 (eliminated in round robin in 2000)
For the first time since winning the CJHL championship and Fred Page Cup in 1999-00, the Cornwall Colts will play for Canadian Junior A hockey’s top prize. The Colts were a picture of inconsistency throughout the 2007-08 season, putting together three four-game winning streaks and four three-game losing streaks to finish just above the .500 mark at 31-24-1-4, good for second in the Robinson Division, seven points back of the division champions from Cumberland. Cornwall captain Darcy Findlay was the offensive force, as the Bristol, QC native was the only Colts skater to find his way into the top 20 of CJHL scoring, with 82 points (44G 38A) in 60 games. Goaltender Justin Roethlingshoefer put together a solid season despite his team’s uneven play, finishing fourth in the CJHL with a 3.05 goals against average. The Colts became the fourth host team in as many years to fail to advance out of the first round of its league playoffs, but hope to follow the lead of the 2005 Weyburn Red Wings, who won the RBC Royal Bank Cup after a six-week lay-off, and the 2007 Prince George Spruce Kings, who advanced all the way to the national championship game after a first-round exit.
HUMBOLDT BRONCOS – WEST REGION
PREVIOUS APPEARANCES – 2 (was runner-up in 1987, won national championship in 2003)
After coming up one goal short of a berth in the RBC Royal Bank Cup one year ago – losing a four-overtime marathon to the Selkirk Steelers in Game 7 of the ANAVET Cup – the Humboldt Broncos will play for the National Junior A Championship in 2008. Humboldt rolled through the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League during the regular season, finishing with a 48-9-0-1 record and the league’s top offense (4.05 goals for per game) and top defense (1.95 goals against per game). Up front, six players cracked the 40-point barrier – only Kindersley and Yorkton had as many – led by Jordan Schindel, the SJHL’s tenth-leading scorer with 65 points (30 goals, 35 assists), and goaltender Taylor Nelson set SJHL records for lowest goals against average (1.74) and most shutouts (7) in one season.
OAKVILLE BLADES – CENTRAL REGION
PREVIOUS APPEARANCES – NONE
For the first time in their 15-year history as a Junior A franchise, the Oakville Blades are Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League champions, Dudley Hewitt Cup champions, and on their way to the National Junior A Championship. The Blades finished fifth in the OPJHL with a 39-6-4 record, an impressive feat considering that 35 teams laced up the skates in 2007-08. The offence didn’t blow any teams out of the water – the Blades scored 222 goals, good for 10th in the league, and top scorer Nick McParland (13th with 77 points) was the only Oakville skater to crack the top 25 – but it was still good enough to finish among the OPJHL’s top 10 teams, as did the defence, which was eighth with a stellar 2.84 goals against average. Goaltender Scott Greenham was among the league leaders in a number of categories, finishing tied for fifth in goals against average, at 2.32, third in wins, with 27, tied for second in save percentage, at .923, and tied for fifth in shutouts, with three.
WEEKS CRUSHERS – EAST REGION
PREVIOUS APPEARANCES – 1 (won 2002 national championship as Halifax Oland Exports)
Despite losing out in the second round of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League playoffs, the Weeks Crushers will play for Canada’s National Junior A Championship. The Crushers took advantage of hosting the Fred Page Cup and knocked off the champions of three leagues – the LHJAAAQ (Sherbrooke), MJAHL (Yarmouth) and CJHL (Pembroke) to win the franchise’s second Fred Page Cup, its first since 2002, when it won the RBC Royal Bank Cup as the Halifax Oland Exports. A good team during the regular season – the Crushers finished fifth in the 12-team MJAHL with a 35-21-1-1 record – Weeks was led by its offense, the second-ranked unit in the league. Leading the way offensively for Weeks was the duo of Jordan Knox, the 2006 CJAHL Player of the Year acquired from Summerside in early January, and Ryan Stoddard. Knox finished as the MJAHL’s leading scorer, with 86 points in just 48 games, while Stoddard finished third with 80 points.