VIDEO: Bandits go back-to-back, capturing 2017 AJHL Championship

WHITECOURT, AB (April 18, 2017) – Team captain Nick Prkusic (Medicine Hat, AB) led the way with 2 goals and an assist, as the Brooks Bandits captured their second consecutive Gas Drive Cup, and their fourth Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) championship in franchise history, downing the Whitecourt Wolverines 4-1 in Game 4 on Tuesday night at the Scott Safety Centre.

“I thought we were great,” said Bandit head coach and general manager Ryan Papaioannou. “We go into the third period having given up seven shots, and you don’t have to create too much offence if you’re not giving up anything.

“It was similar to our final game against Spruce Grove last year; it was a work ethic game, it was about the battle level and all those good things, and our guys deserve all the credit. We were so good through the neutral zone, we were great in the defensive zone; it was an awesome game.”

The win advances the Bandits to the 2017 Western Canada Cup in Penticton, British Columbia, starting next Saturday, from which two of five teams will qualify for the 2017 RBC Cup national championship tournament.

“You spend six hours a day at the rink, and it’s all for that moment there,” said Prkusic, the first to hoist the cup after the post-game ceremony. “Obviously, there’s still a step forward and we get to try to accomplish something bigger, but that feeling is special.”

A low-offence first period saw only eight shots on goal total between the two teams, but with a 6-2 Bandit advantage and the game’s lone goal through the opening twenty, when a two-on-one rush led to a pass across by Oliver Chau (Oakville, ON) to Prkusic. The captain’s initial shot was denied by Whitecourt goalie Pierce Diamond, but the power forward managed to knock the puck from behind the Whitecourt netminder into the back of the net on the rebound to give his team the 1-0 lead at the 11:26 mark.

In the second, Brooks took firmer control with a 15-5 shot lead and two subsequent goals. First, a Dennis Cesana (Providence, RI) point shot was tipped in by Ty Mappin (Big Valley, AB) at 7:51 for the eventual championship-winning goal. At 13:30, after a lengthy hard-hitting shift, Arnaud Vachon (Ajax, ON) fired a wrist shot from the left point that snuck through a screen and into the Wolverine net to make it 3-0 Brooks after 2.

Whitecourt got on the board just 5:25 into the third when affiliate forward Aidan Steinke beat Mitch Benson (Windsor, ON) on a point blank backhand shot. But Prkusic reclaimed the 3-goal lead at 12:12 when he tipped another Cesana point shot into the Whitecourt cage to notch the 4-1 final score.

The Bandits outshot the Wolverines 29-16 in the game, going 0 for 4 on the power play and 1 for 1 on their penalty kill.

After stopping 15 of 16 shots for the win, Benson finished his AJHL playoff campaign with the second-lowest postseason goals against average in the history of the league. His 1.21 average is second only to former Bandit goalie Garret Hughson, who recorded a 1.10 mark last season.

Bandit defenceman Cale Makar (Calgary, AB) was named the AJHL Playoff Most Valuable Player, succeeding Brooks forward Dylan McCrory who won it last season.

Brooks will open its Western Canada Cup schedule at 2:00 PM Pacific time (3:00 PM Mountain) on Saturday, April 29th at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton, British Columbia against the BCHL representative Chilliwack Chiefs, before moving on to face the host Penticton Vees on Sunday night at 7 Pacific (8 Mountain). All games will be broadcast live on Real Country 105.7.