SPRUCE GROVE, AB (April 22, 2016) – For the third time in the last five seasons, the Brooks Bandits are Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) champions, after a 4-1 win over the Spruce Grove Saints in Game 5 of the Gas Drive Cup Final on Friday night.
The Bandits scored once in the first and second periods to take a lead they would not relinquish, and after a late charge by the Saints, responded with two empty net goals to seal the final score.
“I thought our players did a really good job throughout the playoffs just staying in the moment,” said Bandits head coach and general manager Ryan Papaioannou. “To go 12-1, and to beat a team like Spruce Grove – we’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for the way they play, and how they’re coached – tonight I thought we played the most complete game we’ve played in the series.”
The game opened with a bevy of golden scoring chances for both teams, including a Scott Ferguson breakaway for the Saints that was steered aside by star Brooks goalie Garret Hughson (Foremost, AB). The first goal came on the first Brooks power play of the game, when Dylan McCrory (Kirkland, PQ) sped in off the rush and split the Saints defence, tucking a forehand shot past Matthew Murray for his team-leading 11th goal of the post-season.
McCrory became just the second Bandit in team history to score 11 AJHL post-season goals, joining Cam Maclise in 2013. After the game, he was also named the recipient of the 2016 AJHL Playoff MVP award.
The Bandits doubled their lead at the 10:34 mark of the second period, when Jared Cockrell (Byfield, MA) feathered a pass from the left boards of the Saints zone to a streaking in Josh McKechney (Calgary, AB) in the slot. The rookies quick wrister beat Murray and gave Brooks a 2-0 advantage. It stood up as the championship-winning goal.
The Saints got on the board late in the third when Brandon Biro tipped a point shot at the side of the net to spoil Hughson’s shutout bid with 3:10 left in regulation.
But late pressure by Spruce Grove with an extra attacker wasn’t quite enough, as Landon Welykholowa (Calgary, AB) broke free for a breakaway on the empty net and the insurance goal with 1:13 left. Cockrell added a second empty net goal with 43 seconds left to notch the 4-1 final score.
Hughson stopped 31 of 32 shots in the win, and has set the new AJHL record for lowest goals against average in a post-season at 1.10, breaking the record of 1.23 set by the Camrose Kodiaks in 2006. He had already tied the record for most shutouts in a post-season at 4.
“It feels awesome,” said Bandits captain Derek Lodermeier. “We’ve worked hard all year; it’s been one of our goals at the beginning of the year that we set, and it’s just one step in the big picture here.”
The next step for the Bandits will be the 2016 Western Canada Cup in Estevan, Saskatchewan, where they will take on the champions of the other three western leagues, as well as the host Bruins, with the top two teams advancing to the RBC Cup national championship.
The Bandits will open their tournament schedule on Sunday, May 1st with a 2:00 PM matchup with the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) champions.
The 2015-16 Bandits join the 2011-12 and 2012-13 teams as Brooks squads that have won the AJHL title, with this season’s edition doing it in the fewest post-season games in franchise history, winning with a 12-1 record.