Unheralded Calgary Canucks battle to 'prove them wrong' at Centennial Cup

Calgary’s AJHL champs charged up to prove they belong at CJHL’s national championship

Article content

The Calgary Canucks charged into the 2024 Centennial Cup unranked and unheralded.

Perhaps disrespected to some degree, too, due to the league from which they hail — one that fell apart over the course of the season and lost some of its strongest members.

Article content

But after Game 1 of the national finale, the Alberta Junior Hockey League champs are looking — it seems — like they belong.

Advertisement 2

Article content

“I think we still are trying to prove we belong,” said Canucks GM/head coach Brad Moran, making sure to keep his charges focused on the task at hand of winning the Canadian Junior Hockey League championship.

“Obviously, we’re an unranked team that’s here,” continued Moran. “So we went in ranked who knows where, and you’ve got to make a name for ourselves and earn that respect throughout the CJHL.

“But I think the guys notice the rankings, and they want to prove that they belong there and that they can play and compete with the best teams in Canada.”

They proved that Thursday in their opening game of the 11-day event in Oakville, Ont.

The Canucks went down to the wire with the Ontario Junior Hockey League-champion Collingwood Blues, only to lose 5-4 when two late goals turned the result in favour of the top-rated team in the CJHL rankings.

In fact, the Blues have been among the country’s élite Junior A squads all year, say those rankings, and went in as the favourites to win the coveted Centennial Cup.

“We’ve had the rankings on our wall all season,” said Canucks goaltender Julian Molinaro. “‘Prove them wrong’ is our saying — ‘PTW.’ So we like to keep turning heads and prove people wrong.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

“I think we can keep doing that and — hopefully — keep that up right through the Centennial Cup.”

The charge for the Canucks (0-1) — made more noticeable by the angry bull on the front of their jerseys — continues Saturday against the Collège Français de Longueuil (0-1) of the Quebec Junior Hockey League at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex (2 p.m., HockeyCanada.ca).

Recommended from Editorial

It’s the second of four round-robin contests in Group A play, after which the top three teams in each of the two pools advance to the playoffs, beginning next Friday.

And the Canucks plan to be playing next weekend …

Despite not being ranked going in.

“I think it’s starting a fire within us,” said Molinaro, one of the country’s best goalies.

“I don’t know — people just kind of overlooked us this season,” continued Molinaro. “I don’t know why. Maybe we’re not the prettiest looking team, but I think we always get it done. We deserve the recognition. And, hopefully, we can earn it in this Centennial Cup.

Advertisement 4

Article content

“We’ve got really good coaching staff — I’d say we’re really well-coached. And everyone’s bought in so far. We play a complete game — we play for 60 minutes every night — and I think that taken us a long way and, hopefully, it takes us a lot further here.”

It certainly took them to the Centennial Cup after winning the AJHL for the first time since 1999.

A four-game sweep of the Whitecourt Wolverines put an exclamation mark on a successful playoff run.

But for many puck pundits, the title comes with an asterisk because five teams from the league, including the reigning three-time CJHL kingpin Brooks Bandits — bolted to the BCHL in February.

Again … there’s some disrespect there.

“We kind of take it as fuel,” said AJHL playoff MVP Ty Hipkin, a key cog in the Canucks attack. “Nobody really expected it, especially coming from us this year. But we proved it wrong once and I think we’re gonna continue to prove people wrong.”

It helps that their goalie experienced the Centennial Cup last year as a back-up with the Blues.

“We underachieved,” said Molinaro, who came west last off-season to the Canucks to become the full-time twine-minder. “If I learned anything from last night, it’s just take everyone like they’re the best in the country. Because once you get there, you’re just a number. Everyone’s already won. So … I mean … everyone’s good once you get there.

Advertisement 5

Article content

“We can’t take anything for granted. We just got to play every game like our life depends on it.”

And play the kind of puck that’s taken the Canucks on this terrific playoff run.

“I think it’s everyone up and down our lineup can play fast and play hard,” added Hipkin. “I think everyone can move the puck. And I’d take our depth over just about anybody is in this country now.”

“When we asked to push it out and focus, I can see that it’s still there,” agreed Moran. “It’s not we’re just out here to put in some time to go play a tournament. Like these guys are in the right frame of mind, and they’re looking to make some noise.”

[email protected]


Article content