Calgary Canucks fight to “prove them wrong” in Centennial Cup

Calgary AJHL Champions Prepared to Prove They Belong in the CJHL National Championship

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The Calgary Canucks arrived at the 2024 Centennial Cup unqualified and unheralded.

They may also have been disrespected to some extent, due to the league they come from, one that fell apart over the course of the season and lost some of its strongest members.

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But after Game 1 of the national final, the champions of the Alberta Junior Hockey League seem, it seems, to belong.

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“I think we’re still trying to prove that we belong,” said Canucks general manager and head coach Brad Moran, making sure to keep his charges focused on the task at hand of winning the Canadian League championship. Youth Hockey.

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

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

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

The Canucks went all the way with the Ontario Junior Hockey League champion Collingwood Blues only to lose 5-4 when two late goals changed the outcome in favor of the top-ranked team in the CJHL standings.

In fact, the Blues have been among the country’s elite Junior A teams all year, based on that ranking, and were favorites to win the coveted Centenario Cup.

“We’ve had the rankings on our wall all season long,” Canucks goalie Julian Molinaro said. “’Prove them wrong’ is our saying: ‘PTW.’ That’s why we like to keep calling attention and proving people wrong.

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“I think we can continue to do that and hopefully keep it up until the Copa Centenario.”

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

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It is the second of four round-robin games in Group A, after which the top three teams in each of the two groups advance to the playoffs, which begin next Friday.

And the Canucks plan to play next weekend…

Despite not being classified upon entering.

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

“I don’t know, people just overlooked us this season,” Molinaro continued. “I do not know why. We may not be the prettiest team, but I think we always pull it off. We deserve the recognition. And, hopefully, we can win it in this Centenario Cup.

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“We have a really good coaching staff; I would say we are very well trained. And everyone has accepted it until now. “We played a full game (we played 60 minutes every night) and I think that took us a long way and hopefully it will take us a lot further here.”

He certainly led 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 point on a successful playoff run.

But for many puck experts, the title comes with an asterisk because five teams in the league, including the three-time CJHL king Brooks Bandits, joined the BCHL in February.

Once again… there is some lack of respect there.

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

It helps that their goalkeeper experienced the Centenario Cup last year as a substitute with the Blues.

“We didn’t accomplish enough,” said Molinaro, who came west last offseason to the Canucks to become their full-time stringer. “If I learned anything from last night it is to treat everyone as if they were the best in the country. Because once you get there, you’re just a number. Everyone has already won. So… I mean… everyone’s fine once you get there.

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“We cannot take anything for granted. We just have to play every game as if our lives depend on it.”

And play the type of puck that has led the Canucks to this excellent playoff run.

“I think it’s necessary for everyone up and down our lineup to be able to play fast and hard,” Hipkin added. “I think everyone can move the puck. And I would take our depth above almost anyone who is in this country right now.”

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

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