HIRING: INTERN, HOCKEY OPERATIONS
Date: Oct 17, 2019
The Oakville Blades enjoy a team dinner in Brooks, Alberta on Thursday night. (Photo courtesy Oakville Blades)
By Ron Valentine
At the start of the 2018-2019 season, all 132 Junior A teams across Canada had their collective eyes on the prize: carrying the national championship trophy around the 200 x 85 ice surface in Brooks, Alberta at the end of the final game on May 19.
Now, five teams have a shot at being named the best in the country at this level.
The Central Region representatives, the Ontario Junior Hockey League champion Oakville Blades, arrived in Alberta yesterday for the CJHL National Championship tournament, which begins tomorrow. The Blades play the host Brooks Bandits in both teams’ openers.
Twenty-three rostered players, nine of whom were born in Oakville, will take on four of the other best teams from across Canada's 10 Junior A Leagues.
Just five Oakville skaters are in their last season of junior hockey: ex-Mississauga Charger forward Kyle Lewis; blueliner and talented lacrosse player Callum Jones; captain Peyton Reeves, ex-OHL forward Kyle Potts and Christian Girhiny, who spent his season with the GOJHL's St. Catharines Falcons before being called up by the Blades to replace injured veteran and former Toronto Junior Canadiens' captain Jason Pineo.
The youngest on the squad, at 17, are forwards Alton McDermott – the grandson of Team Canada 1972 hero Paul Henderson – and Ryan O'Hara plus defenceman Natha Ribau.
Some pre-tourney comments from staff and players:
JORDAN SELINGER, General Manager
"It's been a wonderful group and a pleasure to watch all season. Our goal was to get to this point and give ourselves the opportunity to compete for the National Championship. This will be great for our players and staff and a week/10 days that we will remember for the rest of our lives. This group of players have risen to the occasion all season and have no doubt they will again with the chance to compete against the best teams in the country."
MIKE TARANTINO, Head Coach
"We are going to represent the league well. It's a wide open tournament with all five teams having a shot at the title. We will be prepared and are going to give it our best shot. This group thrives on these situations. I expect four very tight hockey games. We're going for number one!"
(The hometown rookie forward had the game-winning goal in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup Final.) 'For me it's been really exciting making it this far. The 'fourth line' will keep it up."
An OJHL rookie at 19, he will be attending the University of Alaska/Fairbanks next season. "We worked hard all year to get to this point. We have been preparing since August for it and can't wait to get things started. Every team at this tournament is a winner and it's going to be very tight but we're confident for sure.”
Team Captain in his fourth season with the Blades: "This may or may not be the best Oakville team I have played on but definitely everyone has bought in. There is a lot of skill and talent but the most important is our balance with four line that can contribute offensively and defensively. I'm happy to be playing Brooks in the opening game (Saturday) because it sets the bar high for us. A little bit of nerves before the game is good and we can turn that into positive energy. We know a bit about the teams we will be playing, obviously they are the best. I enjoyed the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, we all pitched in and were not put off our game by teams that played physical hockey. I am confident going in and it will be a great experience for us especially for our players who have not yet got a commitment after the OJHL."
Twelve members of the current roster have received scholarships to NCAA Division 1 or USports schools.
One of many local products on the club, the rookie winger has made the most of his ice time this season. "It should be a great experience for all of us. We've all bought in on the same goal and that is to win it all. I'm hoping for a good week of hockey and lots of wins!" Holden's elder brother, Slater, who played in the OJHL for the Burlington Cougars, has just completed four seasons at Queen's University in Kingston.
The 19-year-old local product came to the fore in the OJHL playoffs and Dudley-Hewitt Cup after sharing regular season goaltending duties with veteran Chris Elliot. "We are really looking forward to this next week of games. I think that we just need to stick with what had brought us to this point and we can be successful."
Manitoba’s Portage Terriers (46-11-3) and the Ottawa Jr. Senators (43-16-0-3) meet earlier tomorrow to open the tournament.
The Blades play the fifth team in the tourney – the former RBC Cup – British Columbia’s Prince George Spruce Kings, Sunday at 4 p.m. EDT
Prince George (39-13-1-5) captured the 2019 Doyle (Alberta/B.C.) Cup on Saturday night, downing visiting Brooks 4-2 in the decisive sixth game of the series.
The top four teams in the tournament round-robin qualify for the semifinals May 18. The final will be played Sunday, May 19, at 5 p.m. EDT.
All preliminary round and semifinals will be streamed live on HockeyCanada.ca. The championship game will be broadcast on TSN and streamed on TSN.ca
All Blades games at the nationals are being broadcast on Oakville Blades Radio. Listen at oakvilleblades.ca