Cole Makar powers Brooks Bandits in Western Canada Cup chase

The injury-riddled Chilliwack Chiefs will be in tough against the Alberta Junior Hockey League champ

The Chilliwack Chiefs open the 2017 Western Canada Cup with a Saturday afternoon game against the Alberta Junior Hockey League champion Brooks Bandits.

Here is a look at their first foe.

It has been a season of unexpected things for the Brooks Bandits.

The first was finishing the regular season ranked as the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s No. 1 team with 51 wins.

“I think our group came together real quickly. I think we learned our style of play much faster than our staff thought we would,” said Bandits head coach-GM Ryan Papaioannou, whose team captured the Alberta Junior Hockey League championship after sweeping the Whitecourt Wolverines. “We didn’t expect to win it in a sweep. I think we had a really great Game 1, which maybe surprised them a little bit. The next three games were really tight. We played good hockey without the puck.

The Bandits were the top team in the AJHL from start to finish, capturing the regular season title with a 51-5-4 record for 106 points. They also led the AJHL with most goals for and fewest goals against.

“I think it’s exciting. We have 17 players (12 are rookies) on our roster that are new from last season,” said Papaioannou, who is in his eighth season behind the Bandits bench. “I think for those guys it’s exciting to win their first championship. I think for our returning players maybe a little unexpected just in terms of that turnover.”

The Bandits are an offensive team that also focuses on defence and strong goaltending. Mitchel Benson was third in the CJHL with a 1.73 goals against average and .929 save percentage. The defence likes to get involved in offence and they are able to roll four lines.

“We had a lot of good contributions from our returning players,” he said. “The guys that came back, definitely carried the culture forward and they made a huge impact on our new players.”

The returning group includes defencemen Charlie Marchand (committed to Bentley University, National Collegiate Athletic Association Div. 1), Joe O’Connor (committed to Quinnipiac, NCAA Div. 1) and Cale Makar (committed to Massachusetts, NCAA Div.1), who racked up 24 goals and 75 points in 54 games and at forward, Tyrell Mappin, who led the team with 90 points in 56 regular season games, Josh McKechney (committed to Colgate University, NCAA Div. 1) and racked up 51 assists and 67 points in 60 regular season games, Parker Foo (committed to Union College, NCAA Div. 1), and Nick Prkusic (committed to Robert Morris University, NCAA Div. 1). He put up 58 points in 42 games.

When it comes to the 2017 Western Canada Cup, Papaioannou said it isn’t necessarily about competing for that championship. It’s about competing for one of the two RBC Cup berths.

Last year the Bandits advanced to the RBC Cup national championship, before losing out in the semifinal.

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