From 131 teams to five, the Road to the RBC Cup is complete. After 478 postseason games across 10 leagues and three regional tournaments, the field for
this year’s National Junior A Championship, which begins Saturday at the Centennial Civic Centre in Lloydminster, Sask., is set.
Here’s a look at who has a chance to be Canada’s 46th national Junior A champions (click the team name for more information on their path to Lloydminster):
HOST TEAM – LLOYDMINSTER BOBCATS
The 35-day lull is finally over for the host Bobcats, who have had five weeks to rest, practice and wait for the RBC Cup to begin after their elimination
in the Alberta Junior Hockey League playoffs on April 8.
Lloydminster put together the most successful regular season in franchise history, finishing with a record 44 wins and 90 points, although that was good
enough for only a third-place finish in the ultra-competitive North Division. They started the playoffs with back-to-back sweeps, needing just seven games
to knock out Drayton Valley and Whitecourt, but ran into the two-time defending AJHL champions from Spruce Grove in the division final and bowed out in
The Bobcats were 23-6-1 as the home team this season, and will need a few more victories at the Centennial Civic Centre if they hope to repeat the feat of
the 2015 Portage Terriers and win the national title as host.
CENTRAL REGION – TRENTON GOLDEN HAWKS
Defence wins championships, and that’s exactly what the Golden Hawks did in 2015-16, shutting down the rest of the Ontario Junior Hockey League and finally
getting over the proverbial hump to reach the RBC Cup.
Trenton didn’t light up the scoreboard, but neither did its opponents; the Golden Hawks allowed just 102 goals in 54 games – 27 less than any other team –
and their franchise-record 44 wins helped them to a 14-point cushion atop the league standings. Trenton lost just two of 18 playoff games to win its first
OJHL championship, and gave up just three goals in four games at the Dudley Hewitt Cup to book its first-ever trip to Canada’s National Junior A
The Golden Hawks don’t have any RBC Cup experience on the ice, but they do have some behind the bench; head coach Jerome Dupont led the Aurora Tigers to
the national title in 2007, the last OJHL to win.
EAST REGION – CARLETON PLACE CANADIANS
Make it three consecutive trips to the RBC Cup for the Canadians, who join the Prince Albert Raiders (1977-79), Vernon Lakers (1989-92) and Vernon Vipers
(2009-11) as the only teams to go back-to-back-to-back.
Carleton Place wasn’t as dominant as its first two championship years in the Central Canada Hockey League, recording its lowest win total since 2012-13,
but it held off the Ottawa Jr. Senators to win the regular-season title before outlasting the Senators in a nail-biting seven-game final series to
three-peat as CCHL champions. They were perfect once again at the Fred Page Cup, beating the host Woodstock Slammers in the regional final to clinch
another berth at the RBC Cup.
The Canadians’ roster includes eight players who were part of the 5-2 loss to Portage 12 months ago, and five players got a taste of international
competition with Canada East at the 2015 World Junior A Challenge.
WEST REGION #1 – WEST KELOWNA WARRIORS
The Penticton Vees got most of the hockey headlines in the British Columbia Hockey League this season with a pair of potential NHL first-rounders, but it’s
the Warriors who were B.C.’s best, and the best in the west.
West Kelowna posted the third-best regular season record in the BCHL and its offence, defence, power play and penalty kill all ranked in the top five. The
Warriors shocked heavily-favoured Penticton in the division final (winning the final four games after falling into an 0-2 hole) en route to the league
title, and they scored wins over Brooks and Portage – who had a combined 24-2 postseason record coming into the regional tournament – to win the Western
Warriors bench boss Rylan Ferster wants to add a second national title to his collection, 26 years after the first; he was a member of the Vernon Lakers
when they won the 1990 Centennial Cup on home ice.
WEST REGION #2 – BROOKS BANDITS
The Bandits have done something no other team in Lloydminster can lay claim to – win Canada’s National Junior A Championship; they hoisted the RBC Cup in
2013, winning the title in Summerside, P.E.I.
Brooks was edged out by Spruce Grove in a neck-and-neck race for top spot in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, falling two points short despite a 49-9-2
record, but it ended the Saints’ two-year reign as AJHL champions with a five-game victory in the league final. The Bandits were the first team ever to go
perfect in the preliminary round at the Western Canada Cup, but needed a ‘second chance’ win over Portage to book their ticket to Lloydminster.
So far, history is repeating itself for the Bandits; in 2013, when they won the RBC Cup, Brooks earned the second West Region berth after a championship
game loss as the top seed at the Western Canada Cup.