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.