Friday, May 8, 2015

2015 RBC Cup Kicks Off Saturday In Portage, Manitoba:

This was written by Jason La Rose of Hockey Canada, who will be doing a top notch job of covering the 2015 RBC Cup beginning this Saturday in Portage, Manitoba. Just one team is back for vengeance this year, with the Carleton Place Canadians looking to bounce back from an overtime loss in the RBC Cup Final game one year ago in Vernon, BC to the SJHL's Yorkton Terriers.

On a side note, stay tuned... A 'Where Are They Now' feature is on the way for a past Vernon Vipers team... Think Chad Brownlee. (Who was also a special guest of the 2014 RBC Cup last year in Vernon)

Read the full story here.

From 129 teams to five, the Road to the RBC Cup is complete. Here’s a look at who has a chance to be Canada’s 45th national Junior A champions:

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 Vees. 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.

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 Cup. 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.

Canadians back for more...
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.

Throwback to 2012: Familiar ground.
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).

Looking to continue the SJ's success

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.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Where Are They Now? 2012/13 Nipawin Hawks(SJHL):

In the first edition of Where Are They Now?, we look back to the 2012/13 SJHL Nipawin Hawks, a team which I broadcasted for on CK750 and CJVR based out of Melfort, Saskatchewan.

This was a very memorable year for the Hawks, returning the league's Top Goaltender award winner, as well an elite group of veterans which was complimented by some big time leadership being added by Doug Johnson and Tyson Hobbins late in the season.

The Hawks finished that season with a record of 32-14-2-6 that season for 2nd in the North Divison, before falling to Flin Flon in a 7 game battle to open the playoffs.

Now let's look at that years roster, prepare to be impressed by the progression of this group. It speaks volumes about the coaching staff.

Yes, I created this beauty!

#41 Davis Jones
Now in Junior season at Alaska-Fairbanks. In 10 games as a freshman, Jonesy posted a .900 save percentage along with a 3.06 GAA and a 4-5-1 record. On two occasions before Christmas in his rookie campaign, he was named WCHA Rookie of the Week. This season, Davis has started in 17 games, and sports a 9-7-1 record along with a 2.53 GAA and .896 Sv%.

#31 Jordan Liem
Jordan returned home for his 20 year old season of Junior hockey following a start to the season in Nipawin. Suiting up for the Aldergrove Kodiaks, Liemer was among the league's best with a 2.52 GAA and .915 Sv% in 24 starts. Now, Jordan is a member of the SFU Clan, where 9 starts has left him with numbers of 3.21 and .880, including a shutout in one of two wins.

#4 Ian Bablitz
Of the 5 members of the 12/13 roster still playing Junior, Bablitz is the only to have gone out of province; where he now leads the English Bay Miners of the SIJHL as a 20 year old d-man, posting 6 points in his first 6 games of the season. Things have slowed down for Babz, with just a single assist since, but his team has also slid to the bottom of the standings. It was a tough end to his rookie season with being sent to play Junior B, but persistence and a huge desire to play is why this guy is still succeeding at the top level.

#5 David Heath
Heater was part of the Carter Berg trade which sent the budding defenceman to the Melfort Mustangs, where he remains to this day. He was able to post 23 points last season, and his 9 goals was 9 better than his rookie season totals. This season with the 'Stangs, David has 6 goals and 12 points in 29 games.

Huge trade!
#5 Carter Berg
One of two 'big' additions near the deadline(no pun intended), Berg brought his punishing game up the highway from Melfort to join his fiercest rival for 3 seasons(his brother too, spent 3 seasons in Melfort to be traded within the division). The former Team West U-17 member's impact was made known immediately, though the offence took time to click, as Berg finished with 3 goals and 9 points in 20 games as a Hawk. Last season, Bergy could be found playing in the Fort Carlton League for the Rosthern Wheat Kings, with identical numbers he had in Nipawin.

#6 Jeff Datoff
After suiting up with a 'C' on his chest for his final year of Junior, Dats called it a career with 82 points under his belt through 217 Junior A games. Jeff is now back home living on Vancouver Island after initially committing to play for the Marian State University Sabres.

#7 Mitch Doell
It would be easy to just copy paste Brady Zerr's write up under Doellsy, as he too was very respected and liked within the organization and community. Mitch posted similar numbers as Zerr, with just an assist fewer in a couple more games. For the following year, Doell was a key leader for the Hawks once again, posting 13 goals and 34 points in 51 games. This season, Mitch has taken his work ethic to Winkler where he suits up alongside his brother on the Royals Senior roster. With 16 points in 15 games, he currently sits 2nd in team scoring.

#8 Brady Zerr
When I did my final interview with Doug Johnson from the Whitney Forum following a playoff disappointment, Doug was very adamant in noting Brady's contributions to the Hockey club during his time in Nipawin. Due to injuries, Brady's season was cut short but his 7 goals and 7 assists in under 30 games was enough to earn him ice time in most late-game situations.

#10 Wheaton King
King has taken steps to further his education north of the border, as his NCAA eligibility was lost during his time in the WHL, though his CIS opportunities would come flowing. King was a key member of the team from the moment he arrived in late 2011 from the Kindersley Klippers, posting over a point per game in under 70 games. That trend has continued, as King currently sits 2nd in SAIT Trojans scoring with 10 goals and 15 assists.

#11 Jesse Bernard
One of the more exciting players to watch at the Cage, Jebbers moved on to his final season of Junior closer to home, suiting up with the Dauphin Kings of the MJHL. This worked out nicely, as Jesse and I reconnected at the 2014 RBC Cup in Vernon, BC where he finished 2nd in tournament scoring with 6 points. Taking 76 points in 2 SJHL seasons in to the MJHL, Jesse posted a total 67 points to show his improvement. Nowadays, Jesse is 2nd in Tiger Hills Hockey League scoring, with 54 points in just 18 games.

#12 Dexter Bricker
For the youngest on the 12/13 Hawks roster, you'd never had known it in the way Dexter carried himself on and off the ice. His toughness landed him in the WHL with stints in Regina and Lethbridge, but near the 2015 trade deadline found himself back to the Melfort Mustangs, after he became part of the David Heath trade following his lone season in Nipawin. Dex has stepped in nicely to Canada's 6th top ranked team, posting a goal and an assist through 5 games.

#13 Garrett Lockeridge
Garrett has remained with the Hawks with this season being his last SJHL campaign. With 335 career penalty minutes, Locker has remained a solid force for Doug Johnson's club posting 5 goals and 4 assists this season.

#14 Arty Kalashnikov
Despite his brother being back home in BC, the Belarus World Junior team member has settled in to University life just fine in Lethbridge(CIS), where he has a goal and 6 assists. The season ends this week for the Pronghorns, wrapping up AK47's freshman season. Last season, he played in Manitoba for the Virden Oil Capitals, notching 20 goals and 52 points in 55 games.

Eli Lichtenwald
#17 Eli Lichtenwald
Returning to Nipawin from the USHL in his final season of Junior was surely a difficult decision, but look at where it has taken the 6 foot 6 inch face-off king. An NCAA Championship in his freshman season at Union, Lich also captured a National Rookie of the Month for December in his freshman season. Following a 21 point season, he attended the Anaheim Ducks rookie camp and now current has 3 goals and 5 helpers through 24 games.

#18 - now #20 Carter Coben
A big force in his rookie season, Carter has transitioned into a career Hawk, recently surpassing 30 SJHL goals over his 3 seasons. With a record low for penalty minutes, Cobes has shown in his final year he can lead on the scoreboard too with 19 goals and 31 points.

#20 Grant Jensen
There wouldn't have been many players around the league a couple years ago that would admit they weren't actually scared of Jenny. He racked up 330 career penalty minutes over just 128 SJHL games, with 18 points accumulated over the 2 and a half year stretch. He initially was set to join the Weyburn Red Wings, but was traded to the Hawks before making his debut.

#22 Ben Johnstone
Johnstone came to the Hawks from the MJHL's Virden Oil Capitals, and immediately made an impact heading toward the 2013 SJHL playoffs; posting 20 points in 27 games in Nipawin. Johnny then returned to where his Junior career started, gathering 12 goals and 29 points in 40 games for the Estevan Bruins.

Yan Kalashnikov
#22 Yan Kalashnikov
After leaving the Hawks to play for the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL late in the 12/13 season, Yan went on to attend Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, where he is now a 2nd year forward. 5 goals and 7 points in 19 freshman games was the bulk of his action as he has missed much of this season, playing just 4 games without recording a point.

#23 Ben Petros
The smartest of the crew, Ben brought patience to the defensive zone and hardly seemed to panic. You've got to feel bad for the only guy on the team that didn't score, but there's always one and that one is always complementing the team in other areas. Ben also returned for another season, but played just 13 games with a pair of assists before packing up for home in Calgary.

#24 Michael Lambert
Fans will remember Michael Lambert scoring a few big goals at the Cage, which were some of my most exciting moments behind the microphone as well. Lambert spent 3 seasons in total as a Hawk, with 12/13 being his middle season. He posted 11-13-11 points respectively but always had a knack for making the game exciting. For his 20 year old season, he and the older players on the team grew some...interestingly long hair. Lambert won a pair of team awards, but is now back home in Northern Alberta working and playing the odd game.

#26 - now #61 Carter Danczak
After coming over from his hometown Battlefords North Stars in his rookie season, Dano has already achieved a career high in goals, recently scoring the opening goal in a big divisional win over the Flin Flon Bombers. Danczak now sits at 15 goals and 28 points in 44 games, good for 5th in team points. Carter was last season's Most Gentlemanly Player for the Hawks.

#28 Jesse Roden
Jesse appeared to have a promising future as a Hawk following a 6 point rookie season, but he decided that the commitment of Junior A was not for him moving forward, as he hung up the skates. Roden was a 10th Round WHL Bantam Draft pick, which speaks for his talent and ability to move the puck quickly. Mens League is working out well though, with 38 goals in 31 games, along with 61 points for best in the league. Ummm, he's still got it!

#33 Jesse Williamson
A teammate of Jordan Liem and Yan Kalashnikov, Willy is now playing with SFU in the BCIHL. Williamson has become a dependable leader for the Clan, with 7 points in 18 games, which includes the 2nd most goals among defenceman on the team. Last season was Jesse's first, with 16 points in just 24 games setting the tone nicely for life as a student-athlete.

#47 Dustin Skilliter
Skilly went on to wear the 'C' in 2013/14, showing that his contributions to the team were continuous from his first day in black and yellow. His captain year would last just 6 games, posting a goal and an assist, before a series of events allowed for Dustin to settle in with the Fishing Lake Hockey League's Hudson Bay Hunters(home of Darren Dutchyshen). Posting 12 points in 12 games as a Hunter, it appears Dustin has taken this season off.

#51 Eric Bollefer
Perhaps one of the most under-rated d-men in the SJHL during the 2nd half of the season, Bolly returned his talent to the Hawks last season for a memorable 20 year old year, putting up a career high 17 points to cap off at 40 in his 162 game SJHL career. Eric earned a scholarship to Minot State University beginning this season, where he has enjoyed a memorable start with 5 goals and 14 points in just 26 games. The Beavers are currently 5th out of 54 teams in the ACHA.

Tayler Balog
#71 Tayler Balog
Balog was looked to as the offensive leader for much of the 2012/13 season, as he showed on multiple occasions his ability to carry the team on his back. A tryout for the World Junior A Challenge team brought Balog's confidence up, as he cruised to a 39 point regular season. He would return to the Hawks last season, and a 49 point season was good for 2nd on the team begin just Tad Kozun. The 2nd Round WHL Bantam Draft pick was traded to Grande Prairie for his 20 year old season, but opted to stay close to home instead and is no longer playing.

#93 Tad Kozun
Following the 12/13 season, Kozun spent one last season at home before earning an NCAA scholarship to University Alaska-Anchorage, where he has had a strong start to his freshman season. With the team 4 games below .500, Kozun is currently 6th in team scoring with 4 goals and 3 helpers in 22 games. His final season in Nipawin had him lead the Hawks with 38 goals and 65 points.

Check back soon for more! Thanks for your support on the blog. Feel free to email me with comments or questions,!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chase For The 2015 Western Canada Cup in Fort McMurray:

Come late-April 2015, for the first time in 15 years, a prestigious Junior A Hockey event is making the long trek north to Fort McMurray, Alberta.

It's a City known for one thing; Oil. But one can't forget the Barons of said Oil, as since that year when the MOB hosted the Royal Bank Cup, they have gone to compete for 6 AJHL Championships, most recently a 2012 loss to the eventual-RBC Cup winning Brooks Bandits.

The Western Canada Cup begins April 25th and as a unique tournament in Junior Hockey, will once again see the feature double elimination finals, a stage that has garnered attention from the Hockey world for its' unique playoff format. The format was actually in part developed by Vernon's Kyle Anderson(now the PxP Voice of the West Kelowna Warriors).

Entering its third season of play, the Western Canada Cup, served as an amalgamation of the Doyle Cup and Anavet Cup, which were both retired in 2013. It features Champions from the BCHL, AJHL, SJHL, MJHL as well as a host team.

Since '13, the four leagues have each had one representative earn one of the two spots available annually to participate in the RBC Cup.

To give fans an idea of who's gunning for their spot in the WCC this spring; below is a list of the Top-4 teams in each league along with their records. I have also included a 'playoff dark horse', a team that has surprised the top teams consistently and could pull of a playoff upset.

Penticton Vees (35-7-2-1).... The Vees have been the cream of the crop in the BCHL this season, with goaltending and defence as strong as they've ever had and their offence can roll four lines of top line talent.

Nanaimo Clippers(31-12-0-2).... Their coach has shown he knows how to put together a winning product no matter where he goes, and having WCC experience as a host will help the Clippers, should they continue to be the rough, tough and hard to play against team they are.

Chilliwack Chiefs(27-16-1-1).... After a rough 2013/14, the Chiefs are back where they expect to be and it's with a new face behind the bench. Acquiring both WHL and BCHL experienced players is something that has made the Chiefs even more dangerous offensively, which should transition nicely in to the defensive zone.

Merritt Centennials(24-18-0-2).... As a former Voice of the Cents, it's easy to see what kind of team the coaching staff is working with; a playoff team. Experience in all positions will help come playoff time, with several players having BCHL playoff experience and looking to avenge the past. They've upset the Vees multiple times, and that will need to be the game plan every night.

Spruce Grove Saints(40-6-3).... This is a club that seems to hang around year after year. And like every year, separating the youngsters from the veterans is a difficult task; proof in that lies in a '98-'94-'97 born top line. If numbers could speak, it's going to be very tough to score on this team come playoff time.

Lloydminster Bobcats(27-16-6).... A few of the dark horses on this list are teams that have a chance to prove their identity as Championship organizations, none more than the Bobcats. Did you know this team has missed the playoffs all of twice over the past seventeen seasons? Based on depth and strong defence, this could be the team fans there will always remember.

Brooks Bandits(35-11-1).... Consistency has become a standard for the Bandits, as going on five seasons now they won't have finished outside of the Top 2 in the South. There's still players on that roster with RBC Cup rings. The AJHL appears stronger than ever in part thanks to their recent success.

Camrose Kodiaks(37-7-3).... After remaining quiet for a few years, it appears the Kodiaks are back where fans will remember them; one of the best in the country. Big name players have been known to come out of Camrose, and as 9 players have double digit goals on the season, there is plenty of selection for talent in the Wild Rose city.

Fort McMurray Oil Barons(26-18-4).... As the host of the tournament, you can't count this team out from anything. The MOB have proven they are capable of anything, and they have the age and experience to go the distance.

Melfort Mustangs(32-6-3-4).... The future is now, the prospects are older and the tables have turned. A team once at the bottom of the standings has now flipped them around, much like Kindersley. For a Hockey loving town, this will go a long ways and a packed Palace will push this team as far as they can go.

Flin Flon Bombers(23-8-5-5).... Do they ever back down? After a struggle of a year last season, Brett Boehm chose to come home this winter and has turned turned all eyes to the Whitney Forum as the Bombers climb the standings. They're always playoff ready, and they're tough to play against in any arena.

Nipawin Hawks(26-12-2-3).... It's been a long time since the Cage was blessed with a new banner from the rafters, and with this years leaders having grown with this team, there is no shortage of heart in Nipawin.

Kindersley Klippers(32-8-3-2).... Much like Melfort, it was just two years ago when there were definitely teams better in the SJHL than the Klippers. Nowadays, it's different. Persevering with Rocky Zinger has paid huge dividends for this club, that has the leadership many teams wish they could have produced.

Winnipeg Blues(29-13-6).... They've got some players who can bury the puck, and this team has always pushed for success. The question is, does this City-based team have enough to outlast and outmuscle the teams we normally see come out of the MJHL.

Steinbach Pistons(28-12-6).... They were in Nanaimo two years ago, and there is unfinished business. Need we say more? The Pistons are right there with the Blues and Flyers as teams that do all the little things right, but there is just one nemesis they haven't had their way with.

Winkler Flyers(25-13-9).... Backed by former Telus Cup winner netminder Dasan Sydora, the Flyers could be the biggest dark horse in the entire Race to the Western Canada Cup... They need their best players to stay in the lineup if they want a chance.

Portage Terriers(45-2-2).... Hosts of the RBC Cup in May, Portage is doing something special with this years' team. They're already at a handful of players with 19+ goals, and they just complimented their top notch goaltending with a late WHL cut in Zac Robidoux.


Tickets to the general public were put on sale earlier this month, with Oil Baron season ticket holders getting the first hold on their seats.

For $275.00, fans can attend all 13 games at the fancy Casman Centre that seats roughly 2,300 fans on a typical AJHL game night.

The number to call to order by phone is 780-743-5509. Book your hotel at the cheapest rate here.

For the official WCC website with official ticket information and more, visit this link.