The CJHL has their host team and city all picked out for the 2022 Centennial Cup, which will be the first national championship for Junior A hockey since 2019. Now they have to actually make that tournament happen, and doing so will require a bit of a balancing act, and a bit of good luck.
Between the departure of the BCHL and the pandemic, the 2022 Centennial Cup, which will be held in Estevan, will be different than any other tournament before it, as will the months leading up to it. Even so, it was a relief for the CJHL to have their host set in stone and a target date for the tournament.
"Everyone is pretty gratified," said CJHL President Brent Ladds. "There was a lot of disappointment last year when we had to cancel the event for 2020 and I think at the time we didn't anticipate we'd be facing the same fortunes in 2021, so moving forward there's a lot of excitement and a lot of cautious optimism."
Some of that optimism comes from faith in the host city, which has shown good fan support for hockey events in the past. With the Estevan Bruins shaping up to be a strong team on the ice and the community throwing its weight behind the team off the ice, early signs are promising for Estevan as a host.
"They've always been enthusiastic and supportive of any of the events that they've hosted," Ladds said. "Some of those have been non-CJHL events as was pointed out in their initial presentation. There's always so much enthusiasm within the communities that host CJHL teams in Saskatchewan. I remember being in Weyburn the year they hosted and it was pretty electric throughout the community."
That's not to say there won't be obstacles to this year's event, however, some of which they've never faced before. Some are beyond their ability to predict, while others, like the BCHL choosing to leave, they're able to take action on now.
"There would be no Doyle Cup going into this year's Centennial Cup," Ladds explained. "The Doyle Cup traditionally is the playoff between Alberta and BC, so in the short term and based on where we are pandemic-wise, we thought it was best to allow the AJHL champion direct entry into the Centennial Cup championship."
In future, Ladds hinted they might consider bringing back an event similar to the Western Canada Cup to determine which teams from Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan get in, but for now the AJHL champion will go straight to the national stage. Elsewhere in the country, the big concern is whether every league will be able to start on time.
"That's the unknown question," said Ladds. "We did ask the host to consider moving the Centennial Cup back from the original dates that were contracted to a week later, which would take it into May 20-29 just in case we do have some late starts. It's probably easier to make that adjustment now than trying to make it halfway through the season."
The Centennial Cup this year will feature the Bruins as host team, the winner of the ANAVET Cup between Saskatchewan and Manitoba's top teams, the AJHL champion, the winner of the Dudley Hewitt Cup from three leagues in Ontario, and the winner of the Fred Page Cup from eastern Canada.