Five playoff series wins, two trophies raised, one opportunity to show off their skills to the nation.
The Prince George Spruce Kings will be hopping on a bus this week for Brooks, Alberta, but this time, it’s bound for the National Junior ‘A’ Championship as one of the teams competing for the 2019 title.
Across Canada, there are over 130 hockey clubs at this level of the game; that number has now been reduced to five.
All the regional trophies were claimed on the weekend, including Saturday night (May 4) when the Spruce Kings hoisted the Doyle Cup for the first time in franchise history, beating the National tournament-host Brooks Bandits in six games.
The schedule has also been released, so let’s take a look who Prince George is up against in the preliminary round:
They are the Central Region representative after winning both the Ontario Junior League (OJHL) and the four-team Dudley Hewitt Cup tournament.
Oakville completed the 2018-19 campaign first in the OJHL with a record of 44-5-2-4 and swept the Wellington Dukes 4-0 in the Finals.
They also have the same colour scheme as Prince George … does that play factor in who wins this game? We’ll see!
GAME TIME = Sunday, May 12 at 1 p.m. Pacific
OTTAWA JR. SENATORS
The Eastern Region opponent is back in the National Tournament a second straight year.
These Senators finished second in the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) with a record of 43-16-0-3, beat the Carleton Place Canadians in five games in the Finals, and went on to claim the regional trophy over the Princeville Titans.
They lost to Chilliwack in the National semi-final last year, so they’re likely not fond of B.C. teams at this point.
GAME TIME = Monday, May 13 at 6 p.m. Pacific
Out of the West, Portage won the Manitoba League (MJHL) in the overtime period of Game Seven with Swan Valley, and then the regional trophy over Battlefords to punch a ticket to Brooks.
The Terriers were top dogs of the MJHL with a record of 46-11-2-1, only lost three games in the playoffs, and scored seven goals in each of their last two games.
This is the third Nationals appearance for Portage, who won it all in 2015 on home ice, and are scheduled to host the tournament in 2020 for a second time in six years.
GAME TIME = Wednesday, May 15 at 6 p.m. Pacific
Expect this match to be a gritty, physical one, especially after the Bandits lost the Doyle Cup to Prince George by suffering three straight setbacks for a first time this year.
Brooks finished the regular season 57-3 in the Alberta League and went 12-2-1 in the playoffs, including a sweep of the Spruce Grove Saints to claim the Inter-pipeline Cup.
They’ll have the home-ice advantage, but Prince George knows what they’re capable of.
The Bandits are also hoping to become the third straight host-team to win the National tournament (Chilliwack, 2018; Cobourg, 2017)
GAME TIME = Thursday, May 16 at 6 p.m. Pacific
“We’re legit and we’re for real,” ‘Kings forward Lucas Vanroboys said to PrinceGeorgeMatters following the 4-2 Game Six victory at the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena (RMCA). “We wanted to get to Nationals the legit way by beating [Brooks]. I think we’re one of the best teams in Canada and we’ve shown that the last two months. All we had to do was play our game and take it to them.”
Vanroboys is right! The Spruce Kings earned their way to a second Nationals appearance as true as they could get.
The team lost to Salmon Arm in the first round of the 2007 B.C. Hockey League (BCHL) playoffs, but because they were selected as the hosts of the Junior ‘A’ Championship that same year, they had to wait two months for the rest of the competition to finish.
Prince George made the finals and had a chance to claim the then RBC Cup, but lost to the OJHL’s Aurora Tigers 3-1 at the CN Centre.
The 2019 installment of the Hockey Canada-run championship starts this Saturday (May 11).
The playoff round starts the following Saturday (May 18) and the championship final is scheduled for Sunday, May 19 at 2 p.m. Pacific.
All the Spruce Kings have to do is not come in last place out of the round-robin and they will earn a semi-finals spot.