With the top two seeds on the menu, Pickering Panthers have a hard road to Centennial Cup glory

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Published May 19, 2022 at 9:01 am

Photos by OJHL Images

The Pickering Panthers, fresh off a dramatic Game 7 win over the Toronto Jr. Canadians in the OPJHL Buckland Cup, are back in action today in Game 1 of the Centennial Cup, the national junior ‘A’ championships.

And they’re in tough. The Panthers open the ten-team tournament today at noon against Red Lake, ranked eighth in the country; draw host Estevan Saturday (seeded 10th) before matching up Sunday against Quebec champion and second-ranked College Francais du Longueuil, the highest scoring team in the country and a club that allowed 53 fewer goals than any other team in their league.

They finish the four-game round robin portion of the tournament against the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta league, the defending champion (albeit from 2019) who just happen to be the top seed in the nation.

Brooks, a two-time national champion who lost only once on route to this tournament, is the heavy favourite here, with three players scoring more than 100 points in the regular season, including Ryan McCallister, whose 139 points was the highest since Mike Comrie in 1997-98 and linemate TJ Hughes, whose 66 goals was the highest since Dany Heatley in 1998-99. They also sport a 100-point defenceman, Zach Bookman, who smashed a defence assist record with 81 this season.

So yeah, the Panthers are in tough.

Pickering Coach Rob Pearson

But the club has shown a remarkable resilience all season long and earned the 15th seed in the final regular season national rankings, so they are justified in having a little swagger of their own coming into this tournament, which wraps up May 29 with the Centennial Cup final from Affinity Place in Estevan, Saskatchewan.

Pickering sports a balanced attack led by Ian Martin (27-29-56), Lucas Rowe (24-31-55) and captain Brendan Tomlinson, the top defencemen in the league this year, who posted 14-41-55 numbers. The offence was bolstered by 48 points in just 32 games from Elijah Pilosof, who came over from Brantford in a trade, and Dustin Hutton, who added 45 points in 42 games.

Tomlinson and Hutton added 17 points each in the playoffs – good for second in the league – with Martin right behind at 15. Three other players finished the league playoffs with double digits in points as well.

Pickering’s goaltending is also first rate, thanks to Zach Roy, who went 22-9 with a 2.22 GAA, a .931 SVP and four shutouts in the regular season and added another two zeros in the post-season, including one in Game 4 of the Buckland Cup final.

The team also boasts some top flight chops behind the bench in former Toronto Maple Leaf Rob Pearson, who was just named Canadian Junior Hockey League Coach of the Year.

Owen Brady and his Mom Deirdre

And let us not forget the heart and soul of the team, defenceman Owen Brady, an 18 year-old from Whitby who scored eight points in 36 games this season three years after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the same form of cancer that struck Terry Fox.

Brady, who was captain of the Whitby Wildcats Minor Midget AAA team at the time, underwent a 19-hour operation to remove the tumor and re-build his shin before rehabbing the injury for 35 gruelling months and eventually earning a shot with the Panthers.

Brady was scratched through most of the playoffs before Pearson inserted him back in the lineup after the team dropped the first game of the final. They’ve gone 4-2 since and are now set to play for a national title.

All preliminary round and semifinals in the tournament will be streamed live on HockeyCanada.ca. The championship game will be broadcast on TSN and streamed on TSN.ca

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