Manitoba’s rich junior hockey legacy
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This article was published 04/05/2022 (400 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When you examine Manitoba’s amateur hockey history, it becomes clear that for many years our province produced strong junior hockey teams. The list includes 12 teams that won the Memorial Cup, emblematic of the Canadian junior hockey championship. The Winnipeg Falcons won the first one in 1921 and the Winnipeg Braves won our last Memorial Cup in 1959. Will the Winnipeg Ice end the long Memorial Cup drought this season?
After major junior hockey became the highest level in the country with leagues in Western Canada, Ontario and Quebec, a decision was made by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) that teams from the three leagues would compete for the Memorial Cup. That left teams from long-established leagues as such as the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) out in the cold, so to speak. In December 1970, the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association, now Hockey Manitoba, donated a new trophy called the Manitoba Centennial Cup to the CAHA. Teams representing leagues rated as junior A, a step below major junior, would compete for the cup.
In the first half of the 1970s, teams representing the MJHL won back-to-back Centennial Cups. The first happened on May 14, 1973 at the Winnipeg Arena, when the Portage Terriers beat the Pembroke Lumber Kings 4-2 in game five of the best-of-seven Canadian final. Steinbach product Randy Penner scored three times and Al Hilton added a single for the champions. Frank Leswick had two helpers. The Terriers were coached by Muzz MacPherson.
En route to the Canadian final, Portage had won the MJHL title in four straight games over the St. James Canadians and then beat the Humboldt Broncos of the SJHL and the Penticton Broncos from B.C. Against Pembroke, Portage won the first three games 5-0, 4-2 and 3-0 before dropping game four 6-4.
On May 16, 1974, the Selkirk Steelers won the MJHL its second Centennial Cup at the Nepean Sports Complex in Ottawa. The Steelers beat Smith Falls Bears 1-0 in overtime in game seven of the final. Gord Kaluzniak scored the only goal on a pass from his brother Gary. Andy Stoesz recorded the shutout for the winners, who were coached by George Dorman.
The road to the national title included series victories over the West Kildonan North Stars, the Prince Albert Raiders of the SJHL, and the Kelowna Buckaroos from B.C. Against Smith Falls, Selkirk won the first two games 5-4 and 7-4 before being shut out 3-0. The Steelers took game four 2-1, but the Bears forced the seventh game with first a 6-4 win and then a 5-4 overtime victory.
Teams competed for the Manitoba Centennial Cup through 1995, when it was replaced by the Royal Bank RBC Cup. In 2015, Portage won the cup at home with a victory over the Carleton Place Canadians from the Central Canada Hockey League. This trophy was awarded to the winning team until 2018. In 2019, when the tournament was called the National Junior A Championship, the Brooks Bandits from Alberta won the title. The following season, with Portage scheduled to host the tournament in its 50th year, the championship returned to its original name, the Centennial Cup. The COVID-19 pandemic led to cancellation of both the 2020 and 2021 championships.
The 2022 Centennial Cup tournament will be held in Estevan, Sask., from May 19 to 29 with the host Bruins and nine league champions competing. The Flin Flon Bombers earned the SJHL spot when they reached the league final against the Bruins. The MJHL entry will be the winner of the league final between the Dauphin Kings and the Steinbach Pistons.
T. Kent Morgan
Memories of Sport
Memories of Sport appears every second week in the Canstar Community News weeklies. Kent Morgan can be contacted at 204-489-6641 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org