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Brooks Sweeps Whitecourt to Win Second Straight AJHL Championship

By Neil Hilts on April 21, 2017

The Brooks Bandits won their second consecutive and fifth overall AJHL championship after sweeping the Brooks Bandits in four games. They only lost once in the playoffs and should be the favourite heading into the Western Canada Cup in Penticton at the end of April. (Melissa Baker photo)

It took the Brooks Bandits just four games in the final to claim their second Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) title in two years.

The Bandits, arguably one of the top Junior A hockey teams in the country, swept the Whitecourt Wolverines and dominated play in three of four. They earned their fourth league championship in franchise history and and repeated as champs for the second time (2012, 2013).

Game 1 set the tone for the series, and it wasn’t close. Brooks won 9-1 behind three assists from defenceman Cale Makar and two goals from both Orca Wiesblatt, Connor Jean and Arnaud Vachon, plus 50 shots on net. Wolverines tender Pierce Diamond was yanked after six goals just under halfway through the game.

 

Whitecourt got the defence set for Game 2, but they lost their offence in the process as they were shut out 3-0. Brooks captain Nick Prkusic had two points while Mitchel Benson had 28 saves.

 

Game 3 was much different. Whitecourt seemed rejuvenated on home ice and picked up their first lead of the series, going up 2-1 after the first. However, Brooks added a goal in the second and third to close out the game 3-2. Diamond had a strong bounceback game, allowing just three goals on 39 shots, but Benson could only be beaten twice.

 

The series clinching game was on Whitecourt ice and the Wolverines couldn’t do enough to prolong the series, posting just two shots in the first, five in the second and 16 overall. Four players on Brooks had two points as the Bandits won 4-1, with Prkusic notching another two goals.

 

Makar, a potential top 10 draft pick in the NHL this spring and the ninth rated North American skater, was named tournament MVP after 17 points in 13 playoff games. He recorded a point in at least nine of 13 contests and played heavy minutes.

 

Josh McKechney of the champions turned in an all-time postseason performance, scoring nine goals and 22 points in just 13 games, good for a 1.8 points-per-game average. He finished one and two points ahead of Whitecourt’s leading scorers, Justin Young and Joseph Nardi, while playing seven fewer games.

 

Parker Foo was the lone player to hit double digits in goals, scoring 10. Eight players from Brooks averaged at least a point-per-game in the round.

 

Benson carried over his sensational rookie season – a 36-3-2 record, seven shutouts and a 1.73 GAA – and set the playoff record for shutouts with four while going 12-1 with a 1.21 GAA and .949 save percentage.

 

For Whitecourt, their two top scorers in Young and Nardi could not get things going in the series. Nardi was scoreless while Young added just one assist overall. With just four goals for the team in the Finals, no player recorded more than a single point, a far cry for the league’s No. 2 offence in the regular season.

 

12-1 through the playoffs, Brooks was unstoppable. Only three games were within at least one goal – an overtime loss to Okotoks, an overtime win over Okotoks and game three against Whitecourt, a 3-2 Brooks victory.

 

As the 2017 Gas Drive Cup Champions, the Bandits earn a spot in the Western Canada Cup, beginning April 29 in Penticton, B.C. Last year, they fell in the finals to the West Kelowna Warriors, and in 2013, they lost to another British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) foe, the Surrey Eagles.

 

This year, the host Penticton Vees will be joined by their BCHL counterparts, the Chilliwack Chiefs - both battling the the league finals and the Vees have a 3-1 series lead as of April 20. The Battleford North Stars swept their way through the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) and finished the year 48-9-1. From Manitoba, the Portage Terriers, won their league for the third year in a row and seventh in past ten years, despite entering the playoffs as the fifth seed.

 

In the final Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) rankings, Brooks was ranked first, Battleford fifth, Chilliwack 13th, Penticton 17th while Portage was unranked.

 

The winner of the Western Canada Cup will earn a spot in the RBC Cup in Coburg, Ont. Five teams compete for national Junior A glory: two from the west (the top two from the Western Canada Cup), one from the east, one from central and the host.

 

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By Neil Hilts| April 21, 2017
Categories:  Junior
Keywords:  Brooks Bandits

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