From 129 teams to five, the Road to the RBC Cup is complete. Close to three months after the first playoff puck dropped, the field for this year’s National
Junior A Championship, which kicks off May 9 at the PCU Centre in Portage la Prairie, Man., is set.
Here’s a look at who has a chance to be Canada’s 45th national Junior A champions:
HOST TEAM – PORTAGE TERRIERS
An overtime loss in the Western Canada Cup final means they won’t become the first RBC Cup hosts to win league, regional and national titles since 2002,
but it’s very hard to call the Terriers season a failure.
Portage was simply dominant from the very start; it scored 11 seconds into its season opener on Sept. 19, won its first 14 games and never looked back,
posting a record-setting 53-3-4 regular season record and owning top spot on the CJHL national rankings for the final 14 weeks. The Terriers then went an
unblemished 12-0 to win the Manitoba Junior Hockey League championship, and reached the regional final before falling a goal short against the Penticton
The Terriers take a very impressive 32-2-1 home-ice record into the RBC Cup, where they’ll try to become the first host team to win a national championship
since the Weyburn Red Wings turned the trick in 2005.
CENTRAL REGION – SOO THUNDERBIRDS
Two years after becoming the first Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League team to reach the RBC Cup in a decade, the Soo Thunderbirds are back for another
shot at Canada’s National Junior A Championship.
The Soo was its usual successful self in the regular season, finishing atop the NOJHL standings for the fourth time in five years, and it ran away with
from the competition in the playoffs, winning 12 of 14 games and outscoring its opponents 86-21. At the Dudley Hewitt Cup, the Thunderbirds clinched first
place in the round robin – and a bye to the final – with two wins and a shootout loss, and a 3-2 win over host Fort Frances gave them a spot at the RBC
The Thunderbirds have only one player remaining from their 2012 RBC Cup team – forward Joey Miller – but that doesn’t mean they’re short on national
championship experience; nine Thunderbirds were members of the Sault Ste. Marie North Stars when that team hosted the 2013 TELUS Cup.
EAST REGION – CARLETON PLACE CANADIANS
You can’t come much closer to winning a national championship than the Canadians did last year, leading Yorkton 3-1 with less than three minutes left in
the RBC Cup final before the Terriers scored twice in eight seconds to tie the game and eventually won in overtime.
Carleton Place bounced back in 2014-15 with another stellar season, finishing with league-leading 49-10-3 record thanks to the No. 1 offence and No. 1
defence in the Central Canada Hockey League. The Canadians were just as good in the CCHL playoffs, going 12-3, and they went perfect at the Fred Page Cup
for the second year in a row, edging Dieppe 3-2 in the regional final to become the first team to win back-to-back East Region championships since the
start of the current format in 1995.
The Canadians’ roster includes seven players who were part of the heartbreaking loss to Yorkton 12 months ago, including starting goaltender Guillaume
Therien, and 2013-14 national player of the year Andy Sturtz.
WEST REGION #1 – PENTICTON VEES
They weren’t as dominant as they were in 2011-12, when they won a ridiculous 42 games in a row and lifted the RBC Cup for the second time in franchise
history, but this year’s version of the Vees isn’t too bad.
Penticton comfortably won the regular season title in the B.C. Hockey League, finishing 14 points up on any other team, but had a tough road through the
BCHL playoffs. The Vees played 78:59 of overtime in their first three games against West Kelowna, erased a 3-2 series deficit against Vernon and dropped
the first two games in the final against Nanaimo, but persevered to win the BCHL title before outlasting a tough field to add the Western Canada Cup to
their trophy case.
Co-captain Cody DePourcq is the lone player remaining from the Vees’ 2012 RBC Cup championship, but forward Demico Hannoun has plenty of experience at the
tournament; he’ll make his third straight appearance with three different teams (Surrey, 2013; Vernon, 2014; Penticton, 2015).
WEST REGION #2 – MELFORT MUSTANGS
The 19-year wait is finally over for the Mustangs, who are returning to Canada’s National Junior A Championship for the first time since they hosted the
inaugural RBC Cup back in 1996.
Melfort made franchise history this season, winning the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League regular season title for the first time ever, and went an
impressive 12-2 in the playoffs, capped off by a four-game sweep of Notre Dame to claim the SJHL championship for the first time since 1996. The Mustangs
squeezed into the playoff round at the Western Canada Cup with a 1-3 record, but a 4-2 win over host Fort McMurray was all they needed to punch their
ticket to Portage la Prairie.
The Mustangs don’t have any RBC Cup experience on the ice, but they do have some behind the bench; head coach Trevor Blevins played with Melfort in 1996,
when it lost 2-0 to the Vernon Vipers in the national championship game on home ice.