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Brooks Leads Three AJHL Teams in CJHL Preseason Rankings

By Neil Hilts on September 12, 2017

The Brooks Bandits made it all the way to the gold medal game at the 2017 RBC Cup, but missed out on the cup after losing 3-2 in overtime to the Cobourg Cougars. (Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)

Following their second Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) title and coming off a tough overtime loss in the RBC Cup final, the Brooks Bandits are slotted as the second-best team in the preseason rankings of the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) top 20.

With their fifth Viterra South Division title in the past six years, plus the victors of the Western Canada Cup, the Bandits are favourites to once again win the league and contend as one of the top Junior A teams in the nation. They’re behind the No. 1 Penticton Vees, who opened at fifth on the chart last year.

The Bandits posted a 51-5-4 record during the regular season, followed up by a 12-1 playoff record. Though they’ve lost CJHL Player of the Year, AJHL MVP and No. 4 overall NHL Draft Pick Cale Makar, along with their other top five scorers, the Bandits manage a retool each and every season. They return this season with 36-win goaltender Mitchel Benson, Michigan State commit Dennis Cesana (52 points as a defenceman), plus 23-goal scorer Arnaud Vachon.

The next AJHL team on the list is the Fort McMurray Oil Barons at No. 9. Last year, the Oil Barons rebounded from a dreadful 2015-16 to put up the second-best record in the league before bowing out in six games in the North Division Final.

Led by the experienced Eric Szudor in net and high-scoring veterans in Ryan Cox (50 points) and Curtis Roach (48 points), Fort McMurray should contend for the North right off the get go.

At 13, the AJHL-runner up Whitecourt Wolverines are the final team representing the Wild Rose Province in the list. They’ve lost a number of top scorers like Brooks, but improved drastically in net, bringing over Xavier Potvin, son of NHL star Felix Potvin. The tender spent the past two seasons with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) with Chicoutimi and will be looked upon to provide stability in the crease.

Mitch Lipon (73 points), Justin Young (69 points) and Joseph Nardi (53 points) are considerable offensive producers gone, so Liam Motley will be counted on to lead after recording 54 points and a team-leading 30 goals last season.

Following Penticton and Brooks at one and two, respectively, are the Carleton Place Canadians (third), Battleford North Stars (fourth) and Cobourg Cougars (fifth).

Last year, the preseason rankings had Bonnyville at seven, Whitecourt 14th, Brooks at 17 and Camrose as an honourable mention, before plenty changed after the regular season got underway.

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By Neil Hilts| September 12, 2017
Categories:  Junior
Keywords:  Brooks Bandits

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