10 teams. One goal. To be crowned the best Junior A Hockey team in Canada and lift the Centennial Cup high on Sunday, May 21st.
After years of planning, the event will officially start with the first game at 11:30 this morning at Stride Place between the champions of the SIJHL, the Kam River Fighting Walleye, and the champions of the SJHL, the Battlefords North Stars.
With the exception of the host team, the Portage Terriers, all of the teams at the event are the champions of their respective leagues and now it's time to find the best of the best. The teams have been divided into two pools of five and they will all play each team in their pool once. At that point, the top team in the pool with advance straight to the semi-finals while the second and third-place teams will move on to the quarterfinals. The teams that finish fourth and fifth will be eliminated from further play. Portage will its first game Friday night against the Manitoba champions, the Steinbach Pistons.
For most host communities, news of being the host usually comes a couple of years in advance. In this case, Portage has known even longer. The city was set to hold the event in 2020 but two months before it began it was called off because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Hockey Canada official Breanne Ferris says the event looks a little different now.
"The size of the event has doubled. While it used to be a five-team event and league champions would play off against each other before the event, now every league champion attends the event. It's a little longer and there are many more people involved."
It all adds up pretty quickly. Between the players, coaching staff, officials, Hockey Canada staff, and fans, it's estimated there are close to a thousand extra people in town for the event. This doesn't even include everyone else who will travel to the community for specific games. Plus, the hundreds of volunteers have already been busy as teams began arriving from across the country early this week. With all that in mind, it's no surprise hotels are pretty much booked solid while restaurants and stores have seen some extra traffic.
The hockey games themselves will be the centerpiece of the event but there will be all kinds of other activities happening throughout. Alumni events, a lounge area that is indoors and out, school visits, and a banquet are just some of the extracurricular things planned.
The Portage Terriers won the cup in 1973 and most recently in 2015 when the city also hosted the event.
The 10 teams involved are as follows.
Host: Portage Terriers
Alberta Junior Hockey League: Brooks Bandits
Ligue de hockey junior AAA du Québec: Cobras de Terrebonne
Ontario Junior Hockey League: Collingwood Blues
Superior International Junior Hockey League: Kam River Fighting Walleye
Central Canada Hockey League: Ottawa Jr. Senators
Manitoba Junior Hockey League: Steinbach Pistons
Maritime Hockey League: Yarmouth Mariners
Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League: Timmins Rock
Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League: Battlefords North Stars