The January pause in hockey due to Covid restrictions has triggered a revamping of how the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) will be crowing its national championships. Regional qualifying tournaments have given way to a 10-team national championship, pulling together playoff champions from across the country. The schedule change has resulted in the cancellation of The Dudley-Hewitt Cup for a third season.
The Dudley-Hewitt Cup, traditionally the regional championship for Junior A teams from Ontario, was scheduled to be hosted by the Red Lake Miners this year. They will be offered first right of refusal next year.
The Centennial Cup, formerly known as the RBC Cup, will be contested by the playoff champions from each of the nine Junior A teams and the host Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. The winner of that tournament will be named the National Champions, according to a press release issued last week by the SIJHL, and Hockey Canada.
The Centennial Cup had been cancelled for the past two seasons, due to the Covid pandemic. The last winner was the Brooks Bandits in 2018-19.
“We just weren’t sure what the traditional format would look like in this environment,” said SIJHL Commissioner Darrin Nicholas. “With leagues giving indications they weren’t going to be able to participate in regionals this season as a result in the delays in completing their schedules, I think the Canadian Junior Hockey League board recognized it needed to find a way to relieve some pressure and uncertainty from the host committees.”
“After having to cancel our spring national championships in 2020 and 2021, we are excited that today’s announcement is one step closer to crowning national champions in May,” said Dean McIntosh, vice-president of events and properties for Hockey Canada.
“If there’s one disappointment to come from this, the postponement of the Dudley-Hewitt Cup in Red Lake is it,” Nicholas said. “They’re a proud community and were looking forward to showcasing it by hosting such a prestigious event. The fact that they even stepped up to tackle an event of this magnitude still in the throes of the pandemic speaks volumes about the type of people involved and their belief in Red Lake. The whole host committee is owed a debt of gratitude for the work they’ve put in to try and make this a reality.”
There are no plans to keep the 10-team Centennial Cup beyond this year.
“Certainly, there’s a hypothesis that a 10-team Centennial Cup may be amongst the best events in all of hockey,” Nicholas explained. “Having said that, we did not feel comfortable committing to this format long-term, until we had a chance to experience it and evaluate it. So, Estevan 2022 will be a bit of an experiment, and we’ll use it to quickly determine if this is something we’d like to see continue beyond this season or whether the regional format is preferred.”
The SIJHL playoffs began yesterday with the Fort Frances Lakers in Dryden against the Ice Dogs, and the Wisconsin Lumberjacks in Thunder Bay against the North Stars.
Top-seeded Kam River Fighting Walleye and second seeded Red Lake Miners have a first-round bye. In the SIJHL semi-finals, the Fighting Walleye will face the lowest seeded team to emerge from the quarter-finals while the Miners will square off against the other quarter-final series winner. The winner of the SIJHL championship and the Bill Salonen Cup will move on to the CJHL Centennial Cup National Junior A Hockey Championships taking place in Estevan, SK starting May 19.