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CENTENNIAL CUP PREVIEWS: HOST OAKVILLE ‘CONFIDENT GOING INTO’ NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

Ron Valentine is profiling the 10 teams competing in the 2024 Centennial Cup, the national Jr. A championship tournament, in Oakville May 9-19.

Published by the OJHL April 30, 2024

BY RON VALENTINE

The Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Oakville Blades will host the 2024 Centennial Cup at their showcase facility, the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex.

Opened in 2010, the main rink of the four in the building has an Olympic-sized ice surface and comfortable seating for 1,500-plus fans.

The Blades were founded in 1966 as a Jr. C club, moved up to Jr. B in 1970 and joined the Central Ontario Jr A loop in 1992.

They have won the OJHL championship Buckland Cup three times and played in the national championships in 2008, 2010 and 2019.

The Blades finished their regular season on a high note by winning their last eight contests to finish in fourth place in the Western Conference with 58 points.

Blades’ alumni who have appeared in the NHL include Dan Bylsma, Ron Hoover, Cody Goloubef, Jeremy Welsh and Steve Pinizzotto

Before the trade deadline this season past the Blades reinforced their lineup by obtaining:

  • Former Caledon Admirals’ captain DAWSON DONER
  • KYLE KUSSMANN from the Leamington Flyers
  • NOAH TYRELL, the North York Rangers leading scorer and captain who recently committed to the University of Wisconsin-Stout
  • KENNY BELANGER Jr. from the NOJHL’s Soo Eagles. Kenny’s dad, Ken Sr., played over 250 games in the NHL for four different teams.

Tyrrell had 22 points in 21 games for 58 points overall.

LUKE JOHNSTON and team captain SEAN CLARKE, who was on the Collingwood Blues’ 2022-23 OJHL title team and will play U SPORTS for the University of Toronto this fall, were tied with 53 points.

GLEB AKIMOV had 21 goals and 44 points and blueliner ERIC BONSTEEL, who will be attending the University of Guelph next season, posted 40. GAVIN McCARTHY, from Athens, ON who played for the NOJHL’s Timmins Rock, shouldered most of the load in net. He ended with a goals against average of 2.59 while first year backup MIKKEL CHRISTENSEN had three shutouts and a 2.23 GAA.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Blades outlasted the Buffalo Junior Sabres 4-2, outscoring them 26-10 but fell in the second round to the defending champion Blues in five games.

Tyrrell had 12 points in their 11 postseason contests. MAX DONOHOE, a former teammate with Clarke (who had 9 points) in North York. ended with 10 along with Bonsteel. McCarthy registered a shutout and posted a 2.44 GAA.

SCOTT McCRORY, born in Sudbury ON is the general manager and head coach of the club. He played for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals where he recorded seasons of 132 and 150  points and 37 in 24 playoff games in 1987. A Washington Capitals draft pick, he played 280 games in the AHL scoring 89 points for the Baltimore Skipjacks in the 1988-89 campaign. Scott played pro hockey in Austria, Italy and Germany. He previously coached the OJHL’s Whitby Fury, Wellington Dukes and Georgetown Raiders. Son Graeme, a former OJHLer himself,  is in his third season at Stevenson University in Maryland.

JASON WARD, who played 350 games in the NHL and was captain of the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, is the associate coach. DEAN DEFAZIO, who suited up for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins is the assistant coach.

Jason’s NHL teams included the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Pre-Blades, he was behind the bench for the OHL’s Brampton Battalion and the OJHL’s Georgetown Raiders.

Ward knows his team will be competitive: “We have three players who have been to the Centennial Cup, Clarke with the Blues, Belanger with the Soo Thunderbirds and JERIAH SHANTZ with the Trenton Golden Hawks. That’s valuable experience that helps them guide the younger players. It’s going to be a big plus for us being at home and rested. We have had time to get some bumps and bruises healed up and we have been counting down the practices to the big opening day. We’ve been watching the teams in our group but it’s hard to predict how they will react to the Olympic-size ice. We had inconsistencies early in the season but as you know we finished strong and ended up with, except for one game, a competitive series with Collingwood who we beat twice in the regular season (the four games were split evenly and all decided by one goal). The guys are confident going in. The players we picked up are character guys, leaders, and they bring more than just points. We have a top-notch goalie who is a co-captain and a well-respected leader on and off the ice. Our fans will be behind us. You can feel the excitement building.”

The Blades will start their Cup schedule on Friday, May 10, at 7.30 p.m. against the reps from the Maritime Junior Hockey League. The Miramichi Timberwolves lead the Summerside Western Capitals 3-1 in the Maritime final. Game 5 is scheduled for tonight in Summerside.

For more on the Centennial Cup, click here: https://www.hockeycanada.ca/en-ca/national-championships/men/national-junior-a/2024

Follow Ron Valentine on X @ronandlynda