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Centennial Cup preview: Seven teams, including Bombers, confirmed as entries

The Centennial Cup is beginning to take shape. Seven of the 10 teams that will take part are now known, including some of the Bombers' opponents.
S13 Bombers 10
Mason Kaspick swallows up Jaeden Mercier with a hug following an overtime win over the Battlefords North Stars.

The Centennial Cup is beginning to take shape. Seven of the 10 teams that will take part are now known, including some of the Bombers' opponents.

At the national junior A championship tournament, the Bombers will start with a four-game round robin against teams from the NOJHL and CCHL from Ontario, the MHL from the Maritimes and the MJHL from Manitoba.

As of press time, three teams, including the Bombers, are confirmed in that group. The first are the Summerside Eastern Capitals, who won the MHL league title earlier this month, beating the Truro Bearcats in five games. The CCHL crowned a champion Tuesday, with the Ottawa Junior Senators sweeping the Hawkesbury Hawks and earning their league title.

The two other leagues haven’t crowned champs yet, but will by the end of this week. In the MJHL, Game 7 between the Steinbach Pistons and the Dauphin Kings will determine their league champs Wednesday night.

In the NOJHL, the Hearst Lumberjacks have been one win away for a while, but the Soo Thunderbirds have battled back, winning three straight games to force a Game 7 Thursday night. If Soo wins, they will have completed an exceptionally rare reverse sweep, going 3-0 down in the series before pulling it out by winning four straight possible elimination games.

Things are slightly different in the other five-team pot, where all but one team is already known. That grouping consists of the newly christened SJHL champion Estevan Bruins, as well as champions from four other provinces.

The SIJHL champion Red Lake Miners will arrive in Estevan after defeating foes the Kam River Fighting Walleye earlier this month. Two more teams punched their tickets this past weekend - the AJHL champs and heavy tournament favourites Brooks Bandits, who knocked off Spruce Grove, and the LHJQ’s College Francais de Longueuil, who won the Quebec junior title against the Condors du Cégep Beauce-Appalaches in five games.

The only league champ yet to be confirmed in that group is from Ontario’s OJHL, where the league finals is down to the Pickering Panthers and the Toronto Junior Canadiens, where Pickering has pulled ahead to a 3-2 lead, with either one or two more games scheduled this week.

In the CJHL’s final top 20 rankings of the regular season, all of the confirmed entrants placed except the Bombers. Brooks was ranked first, while Longueuil was second. Summerside was ranked third, while Ottawa was fourth. Both Soo and Hearst placed - Soo in sixth, Hearst in 12th - while Red Lake finished eighth. Estevan ended the season ranked 10th in the country. Both remaining teams in the NOJHL, MJHL and OJHL finals also finished in the top 20.

The top ranked team that won’t be making their way to Estevan are the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints, who had the tough out of playing the number-one team in their league final. Flin Flon is guaranteed to be the only team entering the tournament that was not ranked in the year-end top 20.

The Centennial Cup runs from May 19-29 at Affinity Place in Estevan.

The Bombers will start off the tournament by playing either Soo or Hearst May 19 at 4 p.m. Saskatchewan time. Flin Flon will go on to play Ottawa May 21 at 4 p.m. Saskatchewan time, Summerside May 23 at 4 p.m. Saskatchewan time and either Steinbach or Dauphin at 4 p.m. Saskatchewan time May 24.

The top three teams from each five-team pot will advance to the final round. The top teams in both groups will receive byes to the semifinals, while second- and third-place finishers will face off in a quarterfinal. The quarterfinal winner will face a top team in the semis, with the two semifinal winners facing each other May 29 in the national championship game, which will be played at 4 p.m. Saskatchewan time.

All tournament games, including preliminary and playoff rounds, will be streamed online on the Hockey Canada website. The finals will be broadcast live on TSN nationwide.

Meanwhile, the Bombers are planning to hold a formal send-off party for the team May 13, holding the team's annual award ceremony from 8 p.m.-9 p.m. and holding a social afterward.