The BCHL champion Wenatchee Wild will meet the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) champion Spruce Grove Saints in the first Doyle Cup series since 2012, starting Friday in Wenatchee.
The Wild beat the Prince George Spruce Kings in five games to win the Fred Page Cup and advance to the regional championship series, while the Saints beat the Okotoks Oilers in five to take the Inter Pipeline Cup.
The seven-game series will start in Wenatchee on Friday and move to Spruce Grove after one team has won two games. The winner will represent the Pacific Region in the RBC Cup National Junior A Championship tournament May 12 to 20 in Chilliwack.
The last Doyle Cup was awarded in 2012 when the Penticton Vees beat the Brooks Bandits in five games with a lineup featuring current NHLers Troy Stecher, Mike Reilly and Steven Fogarty. They advanced to the RBC Cup where they eventually beat the Woodstock Slammers of the Maritime Hockey League 4-3 in the national title game.
Vees head coach Fred Harbinson is the last BCHL bench boss to coach in a Doyle Cup and has done so twice, in 2012 and 2008. A loss to the Camrose Kodiaks the first time around gave him insight on how to handle the turnaround from an emotional league championship win to another crucial series.
“The funny thing is, [in the NHL] you win the Stanley Cup and it’s over,” said Harbinson. “Well here, you win a BCHL championship and the next day you have to take a breath and get back refocused for the next challenge and in 2012 I think we did a lot better job resetting our guys for that next challenge going into the Doyle Cup than maybe the first time that I went through it.”
Penticton did not meet Wenatchee in the BCHL playoffs this year, but the two Interior Division rivals and their coaches know each other well from six regular-season meetings.
“I think something that played into Wenatchee’s favour was losing last year,” said Harbinson. “It was the same for us a couple years ago where we lost after winning the Boileau Trophy and then the next year you came back a little hungrier. They lost last year to Chilliwack, it probably gave a lot of their returners a little extra juice.
“Another thing that helped, if you ask them, playing in the Interior Division and playing in big games against big teams every night got them ready come playoff time.”
Harbinson remembers that last Doyle Cup series in 2012, after a Vees season where they had set a new CJHL record with 42 wins in a row. The South Okanagan Events Centre was packed with fans.
“It was quite an exciting time,” said Harbinson. “I think our last game here in the Doyle Cup had 4,700 or 4,800 people, so it was an amazing atmosphere in the final game and then we went on to win the national championship. It was an exciting time for our organization.”
The B.C./Alberta series dates back to 1968 when the Penticton Broncos beat Edmonton Western in five games. The regional series became known as the Doyle Cup in 1985 when Penticton businessman Pete Doyle and his family donated the trophy and was first won by the Penticton Knights over the Red Deer Rustlers in five games.
The BCHL has won 19 of the 28 Doyle Cups since it was first won in 1985. The Vernon Vipers have the most titles with eight, three of which came when they were known as the Lakers, while the Camrose Kodiaks lead the AJHL with five.
From 2013 to 2017 the Doyle Cup was replaced by the Western Canada Cup which was a round-robin tournament involving the winners from the BCHL, AJHL, Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) and Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL), as well a host team. The top-two teams in the tournament would advance to the RBC Cup.