HIRING: INTERN, HOCKEY OPERATIONS
Date: Oct 17, 2019
Thomas Maia scored two goals for the Oakville Blades during their loss to the hosts at the National Jr. A Championships in Brooks, Alberta on Saturday night. (Photo by OJHL Images)
By Ron Valentine
The much-anticipated National Junior A championship got underway Saturday at 2 p.m. MDT in Brooks, Alberta with the representatives of the Central Canada Hockey League, the Ottawa Junior Senators, and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's best, the Portage Terriers, facing off. The Terriers hoisted the trophy on home ice in 2015.
Before the game, I had a chance to speak to Ottawa's Head Coach/GM, Martin Dagenais. In 2018 his team went down in the semifinal to the host Chilliwack Chiefs. who went on to win the Cup. "We had just eight players returning from that team and added a couple of new faces in veteran centre Geoff Dempster from Nepean, forward David Toppa and a defenceman with Major Junior experience and another vet, Taylor Egan. Unfortunately, we are going into the Cup with some injuries including our top defenceman Adrien Bisson (who will be going to Maine next season) and other key players but we have faced adversity all year and overcome it. Other players step up. Our No. 1 line is as good as any with a physical skilled skater in Darcy Walsh, who is off to Robert Morris next season, a great two-way player in Elie Boulerice, a quiet presence and 16-year old Kyle Jackson, a third-round pick by North Bay who played a dozen games for the Battalion this season. They remind me of Marchand, Bergeron and Pasternak (of the Boston Bruins). We also have a top-notch goalie in Francis Boisvert". He was the CCHL's playoff MVP.
I asked Martin about former Orangeville Flyer, Conor Smart. "Conor really got his game in gear for our playoffs, scoring seven goals." he said. On former Kingston Vee blueliner Blair Battochio, he noted: "He does all the little things right"
The Terriers won 46 of their 60 regular season contests to take the MJHL title and in their playoffs they went 12-3, sweeping the Waywayseecappo Wolverines and the Virden Oil Capitals and then the Swan Valley Stampeders in the Turnbull Cup final where over 2,100 fans watched game seven at their home rink, Stride Place.
Blueliner Calean McPhee is an Ontario product. Born in Ancaster he played for the Dundas Jr. C. Blues and his hometown Avalanche in the GOJHL. Brothers Ocean and Orca Weisblatt were on the Brooks club that lost to Cobourg in the 2017 final.
Seventy four seconds had elapsed in the game when Walsh sniped one to give the Senators the lead, it was the first shot on net, and that goal would stand up for the first forty minutes although in the second frame Welsh and Smart were denied by the metalwork.
A tip-in by Boulerice of a point shot by veteran Bailey Brant early in the third gave the CCHL club a little breathing room. A Battochio shot almost made it a three-goal advantage but one again the post intervened. Walsh found the trailing Jackson and the rookie made no mistake as the Senators made it 3-0 with a high shot with a little over five minutes left. Boulerice had a three point game and Boisvert made the big saves when needed and stopped twenty for the shutout.
It's an off day for the winners on Sunday with Portage going up against Brooks.
Game 2 at 7 p.m. MDT and the Oakville Blades were in tough against the host Brooks Bandits, champions of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The Bandits won the RBC Cup in 2013 topping the host Summerside Western Capitals in the final. In 2017, they lost in OT to the OJHL's Cobourg Cougars.
GM/Head Coach Ryan Papaioannou, in his 10th season behind the Bandits' bench, told me before the game: "We are excited and looking forward to getting started. This has been two years in the making for our community and it runs much deeper than hockey. As a coach I am focused on making sure our group is able to feel the emotion of the event while still being able to execute and get to the playoff weekend.
“The field is very strong and we have plenty of work ahead starting with a tremendous Oakville team. We feel great about playing at home in front of our own fans, it gives us a definite advantage emotionally but we also have a ton of pressure to cope with."
I asked Ryan about three players from the greater Hamilton area: Brandon Scanlin, Ryan Mahshie and Bobby Harrison. "Scanlin has been a huge part of our team as our top defenceman, playing a ton of minutes in all situations. He also leads as an Assistant Captain. Mahshie was one of the leading goal scorers in the league and we rely on him for his timely scoring and his work on the powerplay. Harrison was a key in our playoffs adding speed and skill to our front end."
Following the opening ceremonies at the Centennial Regional arena on Silver Sage Road captains Peyton Reeves of the Blades and Brooks' Nathan Plessis took the ceremonial opening faceoff. A familiar starting lineup for the Blades: Will Barber in the net; Callum Jones and Ryan Nicholson on the blueline and Josh Nixon, Spencer Kersten and Kyle Lewis up front. What a start for Oakville with Nixon picking up a loose puck and banking one in. Only 11 seconds had expired. The Bandits came back large and quickly with Luke Bast and William Lemay finding the net. Thomas Maia picked up a rebound right in front to tie it at 2-2 and with all this scoring only four minutes and four seconds had passed in the first frame and already more goals than the total in Game 1.
Mahshie, on the Bandits' potent powerplay, got them back in front. Seconds later Mack Hancock put one in off the post at 12.08 as the frenetic pace continued. Just after the expiration of another Bandits' man-advantage, blueliner Nick Hale gave them a three goal lead. Brooks with the fast start they were looking for and a 5-2 advantage after twenty minutes.
Following the goal glut of the first period, the second featured one for each team. The Blades got one back on a 5-on-3 with Maia's shot seeming to take a deflection off a Brooks player before the home side got their sixth late from Bast as he sifted through the Oakville defence. It was the second goal for both players following seven different scorers in the first. Bast is headed for the North Dakota while Maia has committed to RIT.
The final frame saw powerplay goal No. 2 for the Bandits as Scanlin blasted one home at 10:21 for the 7-3 final.
The Blades play 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.
Brooks take on Portage in the evening contest.
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