Hockey May 10, 2018

After 68 days and 512 games, the Road to the RBC Cup is complete.

The Steinbach Pistons grabbed the fifth and final spot, topping the Nipawin
Hawks in six games to claim the ANAVET Cup and earn the West Region berth
at Canada’s National Junior A Championship. They will join the host
Chilliwack Chiefs, Ottawa Jr. Senators (East), Wellington Dukes (Central)
and Wenatchee Wild (Pacific) in Chilliwack, B.C., beginning Saturday.

Here’s a closer look at the five teams that will compete for the national

To say the Road to the RBC Cup has had its twists and turns for the hosts
would be a bit of an understatement. Fresh off back-to-back appearances in
the BCHL final, and after coming within just one win of a trip to the
national championship last year, hopes were high in Chilliwack. But the
team won just one of its first eight games as it struggled to a .500
regular season, and were bounced in seven games by Prince George in the
first round of the playoffs.

Making their first appearance at the RBC Cup since 2002, and their third
overall, the Chiefs will have a new voice behind the bench when the puck
drops. They’ll look to repeat the feat of the Cobourg Cougars, who failed
to win their league title last year before claiming the national
championship on home ice.

After years of almost-but-not-quite finishes in the CCHL, including
consecutive losses in the league final, the Jr. Senators finally climbed
the mountain this season. Ottawa posted the best regular-season record in
franchise history, going 46-9-7 before beating Pembroke, Brockville and
Carleton Place in the playoffs, ending the Canadians’ four-year reign as
league champions and claiming its first Bogart Cup in 16 years. The Jr.
Senators then went perfect at the Fred Page Cup on home ice, capped by a
10-1 rout of Longueuil to win the East Region title.

The Jr. Senators are on to Canada’s National Junior A Championship for the
second time; they went east to Halifax, N.S., in 2002, winning one of four
games in the preliminary round before falling 9-7 to the host Halifax Oland
Exports in the semifinals in one of the highest-scoring games in tournament

Almost no one did it at both ends of the ice quite like the Pistons, who
posted the second-best goal differential in the country at +166 (behind
only Terrebonne, at +206) en route to a franchise-record 100 points.
Steinbach swept away Swan Valley in the first round before downing Winnipeg
and Virden – coming back from an 0-2 deficit against the Oil Capitals to
hoist the Turnbull Cup for the second time in six years – and took down the
SJHL champions from Nipawin in six games to win the ANAVET Cup and earn the
West Region berth in Chilliwack.

The Pistons are in unfamiliar territory, having qualified for their first
RBC Cup in their 29th season (including stops in Winnipeg, Sagkeeng and
Beausejour), although forward Daniel McKitrick, acquired from Melville in
October, helped Cobourg win the national championship last season.

No team has played more hockey to get to Chilliwack than the Dukes, and no
team has come closer to elimination. In all, seven of Wellington’s 30
playoff games have been win-or-go-home, including Game 7s in each of the
first two rounds and a long climb out of a 3-1 hole against Newmarket. But
the Dukes took out Aurora, the OJHL regular-season champion, in the semis
before ending Georgetown’s hopes of a repeat in the Buckland Cup final, and
capped their run through the Dudley Hewitt Cup with a 7-4 win over
previously-unbeaten Dryden to advance to Chilliwack as Central champs.

It is the third time the Dukes have appeared at the RBC Cup and they’ll be
looking for the two wins that eluded them in 2003 and 2011, when they lost
out in the national semifinals.

The Wild own the best playoff record among the five remaining teams,
dropping just five of 25 games en route to BCHL and Doyle Cup
championships. Outside of their win over Vernon in the quarter-finals,
where they erased a two-game deficit, the Wild were a playoff juggernaut,
taking 3-0 series leads against Merritt, Trail and Prince George to win the
league title in just their third season of BCHL hockey, and doing the same
against Spruce Grove to upend the AJHL champions and claim the Pacific

The first U.S.-based team to be the best in British Columbia since the
Bellingham Blazers in 1979, Wenatchee is just the second American franchise
to earn a spot at Canada’s National Junior A Championship, following the
2013 Minnesota Wilderness.

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