When the Portage Terriers last hoisted the Centennial Cup back in 2015, it was in front of nearly 3,000 screaming fans in their own rink.
The Terriers are hoping for the same outcome as Canada’s National Junior A Championship returns to Portage la Prairie, Man.
As host, Portage gets an automatic entry, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong. This season, the Terriers finished first in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL), five points ahead of the eventual league champions, the Steinbach Pistons, with a record of 43-11-1-3.
“We just went about our business the same way as we do every year,” says Terriers’ head coach Blake Spiller. “We want to get better every day.”
And it wasn’t just some hot streak that led to first place, Portage was good all season. The Terriers led the league in goals with 249 — 22 more than the next closest team, Steinbach — and were first in power-play goals scored. They also had the best penalty-kill percentage of anyone in the MJHL and gave up just 163 goals over 58 games, the fourth-fewest in the league.
“We seem to get better as time goes on,” Spiller says. “We had our issues with consistency like everybody else this year but our game for the most part was tight.”
Helping power the Terriers on offence has been 19-year-old Portage native Ryan Botterill. In his first full season with the club, Botterill scored a league-leading 45 goals and finished second in MJHL scoring with 73 points.
“He’s a scorer,” Spiller says of Botterill, who became the first Terrier to record 40 or more goals in a single season since Duncan Pierce did it back in 2015/2016. “But he has also had to kill penalties, which is something he hasn’t had to do in the past. Now he’s turned himself into a complete player.”
On the back end, Hayden Lacquette and Brandon McCartney finished one-two in points by defencemen in the MJHL this season with 54 each. In goal, no other MJHL team had goaltending tandem that won as many games as Bailey Monteith and Jayden Catellier. Monteith posted a record of 23-7-1 with a .902 save percentage and goals-against average of 2.64. Catellier was equally as good, going 19-4-0 with a .901 save percentage and a 2.71 GAA.
“You got to have two guys if you want to go deep into playoffs just because of the uncertainty of the day-to-day grind and when you get into the playoffs,” says Spiller. “Guys can get a little bit worn and sometimes you just need a fresh guy to come in and be capable of winning you a game or two. So, we like our two guys.”
Terriers hope history can repeat
With Portage set to host of Centennial Cup once again, it’s hard not to compare the 2023 Terriers to the 2015 team. And there are some interesting similarities. In both years during the regular season, Portage finished ahead of Steinbach, scored more goals and power-play goals than any other team, had two defencemen finish one-two in points by a blue-liner and had a great goaltending duo.
That said, Spiller isn’t keen on comparing the 2015 team to the current Terriers.
“We’re not going to try and compare ourselves to them. We’re just going to be our own club and do the best we can to win.”
HOW THEY GOT TO PORTAGE
Manitoba Junior Hockey League
Quarterfinal: defeated Niverville 4-1 (5-4, 5-2, 4-5, 3-1, 5-1)
Semifinal: lost to Virden 4-3 (3-4 2OT, 1-5, 4-2, 3-0, 2-4, 7-1, 2-3 2OT)
Record (W-L-OTL-SOL): 43-11-1-3 (1st in MJHL)
Goals for: 249 (1st in MJHL)
Goals against: 163 (4th in MJHL)
Power play: 63 for 266 (23.7% – 2nd in MJHL)
Penalty killing: 211 of 285 (1st in MJHL)
Longest winning streak: 10 (Feb. 8-March 8)
Top 3 scorers:
• Ryan Botterill – 45G 28A 73P (2nd in MJHL)
• Austin Peters –20G 42A 62P (8th in MJHL)
• Hayden Lacquette – 15G 39A 54P (19th in MJHL)
Goals for: 40
Goals against: 36
Power play: 7 for 43 (16.3%)
Penalty killing: 32 of 41 (78.0%)
Top 3 scorers:
• Ryan Botterill – 4G 8A 12P
• Mike Stubbs – 8G 2A 10P
• Austin Peters – 2G 7A 9P
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
1973 – Portage Terriers | national champions | 4-1 | 22GF 16GA
2005 – Portage Terriers | 5th place | 1-3 | 11GF 18GA
2011 – Portage Terriers | 5th place | 1-3 | 12GF 17GA
2012 – Portage Terriers | 5th place | 1-3 | 9GF 15GA
2015 – Portage Terriers | national champions | 5-1 | 24GF 12GA
2019 – Portage Terriers | 5th place | 0-4 | 8GF 18GA
CJHL TOP 20 RANKINGS
Sept. 26 – Not ranked
Oct. 9 – 7th
Oct. 16 – 6th
Oct. 24 – 10th
Oct. 31 – 6th
Nov. 7 – 6th
Nov. 14 – 3rd
Nov. 21 – 8th
Nov. 28 – 9th
Dec. 5 – 10th
Dec. 12 – 10th
Dec. 19 – 10th
Jan. 9 – 14th
Jan. 16 – 10th
Jan. 23 – 10th
Jan. 30 – 9th
Feb. 6 – 10th
Feb. 13 – 12th
Feb. 20 – 7th
Feb. 27 – 7th
March 6 – 8th