The BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings begin their run at the 2019 National Junior A Championship on Saturday in Brooks, Alta.
Five of Canada’s best Junior A teams vie for the national title over the next nine days with the Spruce Kings representing the Pacific Region, the Portage Terriers the West Region, the Oakville Blades the Central Region champions, and the Ottawa Jr. Senators the East Region champs. The Brooks Bandits will also compete as hosts of the tournament.
It’s Brooks first time holding the Hockey Canada event but the Alberta town of just over 14,000 is keen, and sold out all ticket packages by February.
“We’re ready!” said Brooks mayor Barry Morishita in the Brooks Bulletin. “Having a great hockey team and a great hockey tradition just adds to the excitement.”
The Prince George Spruce Kings cruised through the BCHL playoffs going 16-1 and sweeping RBC Cup champions Chilliwack Chiefs, the Island Division champs Victoria Grizzlies, and finally the Vernon Vipers in the Fred Page Cup.
Including the Doyle Cup, the Spruce Kings are 20-3 in the postseason after a perfect 15-0 run on home ice. Since Jan. 25, they’ve put together a 32-4 record and their .870 winning percentage in the playoffs is the highest of any team that has won the Doyle Cup, which dates back to 1985.
“It’s been an amazing experience so far and we know what’s lying ahead of us and we’re all excited for that and looking forward to it,” Kings goalie Logan Neaton told the Prince George Citizen.
Neaton, a Brighton, Mich. product, played all 23 playoff games and compiled a 1.56 goals-against average and .939 save percentage with three shutouts.
“We’re a really confident group and know what we have to do to be successful. It definitely was good to go down there (to Brooks) and play some games and get used to playing games in that building.”
Dustin Manz led the team in scoring during the regular season with 70 points and Ben Brar had the most goals with 35.
P.G. previously participated in the RBC Cup as hosts in 2007 and lost in the final.
The Bandits went 57-3-0 in the regular season, the best in Alberta Junior Hockey history, but lost to Prince George in six games in the Doyle Cup final last week.
Despite losing the Doyle, the host Bandits may actually be favoured to win the tournament on home ice. They went undefeated, 30-0-0, at home during the regular season, and led the Spruce Kings in the Doyle Cup series, 2-1, after three home games, before losing three straight in Prince George.
Brooks also has former Trail Smoke Eaters goalie, Tanner Marshall, on their roster. Marshall won all 12 games he appeared in for the Brandits, posting four shut outs, a 1.33 goals-against average, and a .925 save percentage.
William Lemay led the Bandits in scoring with 32 goals and 90 points in 58 games. Brooks also won the national championship in 2013.
The Junior Senators are the only returning team in the tournament. The Sens fell to Chilliwack in the semifinal of last year’s championship and will look to go one step further this time around.
In the regular season, Ottawa went 43-16-0-3, and 12-2 in the playoffs. Forwards Darcy Walsh and Élie Boulerice tied for the team lead in scoring during the regular season with 64 points each.
The Oakville Blades had a stellar 44-5-2-4 season, and also dominated in a 16-3 playoff run. Spencer Kersten was the team’s leading scorer in the regular season with 60 points in 49 games, while Harrison Israels’ 27 goals were tops on the Blades. This will be Oakville’s third appearance in the national championship since 2008.
The Portage Terriers beat the SJHL Battleford North Stars in five games of a best-of-seven prairie showdown. Joey Moffatt was the team’s regular-season leading scorer with 26 goals and 56 points in 54 games. The Terriers won their second national title in 2015.
The national championship starts on Saturday with Ottawa playing Portage at 2 p.m. and Oakville facing off against Brooks at 7 p.m. Prince George’s first game goes on Sunday at 2 p.m. vs Oakville, and Brooks plays Portage at 7 p.m.
Single-game seats and standing-room tickets were made available and will be released for sale at 11 a.m. on the day of each game. Tickets are available online at tickets.hockeycanada.ca.