2023 centennial cup brooks bandits
© Brooks Bandits

Road to the 2023 Centennial Cup: Brooks Bandits

The two-time defending national champions are back and looking to become the first team to go back-to-back-to-back at Canada’s National Junior A Championship

Nicholas Pescod
|
May 7, 2023
|

The two-time defending national Junior A champions are back. 

After downing Okotoks in six games, sweeping Blackfalds and finishing off Spruce Grove in five to claim their seventh Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) title, the Brooks Bandits are now focused on capturing a third-straight Centennial Cup — something that has never been accomplished in the 50-year history of the tournament.

“We’re coming into this with high expectations, but we’re also very cognizant of the fact that every night we’re playing a championship-calibre team,” says Bandits head coach Ryan Papaioannou.

As has been the case in recent years, Brooks dominated the competition, finishing the season with a record of 53-5-1-1, one win more than they had last year. Those 53 wins, by the way, tie the AJHL record held by the 2012-13 Bandits for second-most in a single season.

Led by Aiden Fink’s league-leading 97 points, the Bandits possess an explosive offence that put up 319 goals over 60 games — 58 more than the next closest team. Fink had 41 goals, the second-most anyone in the AJHL. On top of that, the Bandits had five others who scored 20 or more goals.

“He's been our leading scorer for an exhibition all the way through the playoffs. I think one of the differences from last year to now is his maturity has come quite far. He’s still a young player at 18, but he was dominant in our regular season,” Papaioannou says of Fink.

Brooks’ defence was equally impressive, allowing just 113 goals. The main reason? Netminder Ethan Barwick. The 20-year-old veteran gave up just 94 goals in the regular season and posted a 45-4-1 record with a .929 save-percentage and a 1.88 goals-against average.

“Ethan was probably our MVP most nights,” says Papaioannou. “We might rely on him a little bit too much, but he’s got lots of experience. He’s been with us for four seasons and this will be his third national championship that he’s played in.”

Heading into the Centennial Cup, the Bandits come loaded with former national champs. The roster includes nine players who were part of the 2022 championship team – Barwick, Fink, Heath Armstrong, Dario Beljo, Nathan Free, Dominick Campione, Hughie Hooker, Brendan Poshak and Wes Turner.

They also have new blood hungry to win on the big stage with players like Ukrainian forwards Mikhail Simchuk and Danylo Korzhyletskyi, and defencemen Aiden Celebrini —the older brother of U18 Worlds standout Macklin Celebrini — and Sam Court, who led all AJHL d-men in points during the regular season with 72.

“Our guys are excited. I think there's a little bit of anticipation for the new guys on what it's all about,” says Papaioannou. “One advantage is that we have guys who've been through it before.”

“In our league championship series, there were a couple of times where I said to our guys, ‘I don’t think they have anybody on the other side that has won. They've been here but they've never won,’ and we need to be able to use that to our advantage.”

HOW THEY GOT TO PORTAGE

Alberta Junior Hockey League
Quarterfinal: defeated Okotoks 4-2 (3-2, 2-3, 5-2, 2-3, 4-2, 3-1)
Semifinal: defeated Blackfalds 4-0 (5-0, 4-2, 5-3, 4-2)
AJHL championship: defeated Spruce Grove 4-1 (5-2, 3-6, 2-1, 2-1 OT, 3-2 OT)

REGULAR SEASON

Record (W-L-OTL-SOL): 53-5-1-1 (1st in AJHL)
Goals for: 319 (1st in AJHL)
Goals against: 113 (1st in AJHL)
Power play: 105 for 305 (34.4% – 1st in AJHL)
Penalty killing: 225 of 253 (88.9% – 7th in AJHL)
Longest winning streak: 18 (Oct. 22-Dec. 3)
Top 3 scorers:
• Aiden Fink – 41G 56A 97P (1st in AJHL)
• Dario Beljo – 34G 55A 89P (4th in AJHL)
• Sam Court – 13G 59A 72P (10th in AJHL)

PLAYOFFS

Record: 12-3
Goals for: 52
Goals against: 34
Power play: 15 for 53 (28.3%)
Penalty killing: 49 of 54 (90.7%)
Top 3 scorers:
• Caelan Fitzpatrick – 11G 5A 16P
• Brendan Poshak – 3G 11A 14P
• Aiden Fink – 8G 5A 13P

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

2013 – Brooks Bandits | national champions | 5-1 | 27GF 14GA
2016 – Brooks Bandits | 4th place | 3-2 | 17GF 15GA
2017 – Brooks Bandits | 2nd place | 4-2 | 24GF 12GA
2019 – Brooks Bandits | national champions | 6-0 | 25GF 14GA
2022 – Brooks Bandits | national champions | 6-0 | 44GF 10GA

COMMITMENTS

Heath Armstrong – Long Island University (2023-24)
Ethan Barwick – Lindenwood University (2023-24)
Dario Beljo – American International College (2023-24)
Ethan Beyer – Arizona State University (2023-24)
Tyler Blocha – Northern Michigan University (2023-24)
Aaron Brown – Quinnipiac University (2023-24)
Dominick Campione – Stonehill College (2023-24)
Aiden Celebrini – Boston University (2023-24)
Elliot Dutil – Lindenwood University (2023-24)
Aiden Fink – Penn State University (2023-24)
Caelan Fitzpatrick – Niagara University (2023-24)
Nathan Free – Penn State University (2023-24)
Jordan Hughesman – Merrimack College (2023-24)
Hudson Malinoski – Providence College (2023-24)
Brendan Poshak – Northern Michigan University (2023-24)
Wes Turner – Holy Cross University (2023-24)
Hunter Wallace – Merrimack College (2023-24)

CJHL TOP 20 RANKINGS

Sept. 26 – Not ranked
Oct. 9 – 11th
Oct. 16 – 9th
Oct. 24 – 8th
Oct. 31 – 4th
Nov. 7 – 2nd
Nov. 14 – 2nd
Nov. 21 – 2nd
Nov. 28 – 2nd
Dec. 5 – 2nd
Dec. 12 – 3rd
Dec. 19 – 3rd
Jan. 9 – 3rd
Jan. 16 – 3rd
Jan. 23 – 3rd
Jan. 30 – 4th
Feb. 6 – 3rd
Feb. 13 – 2nd
Feb. 20 – 1st
Feb. 27 – 1st
March 6 – 1st

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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