COBOURG, Ont. – Nick Prkusic had a pair of goals, including the eventual game-winner, to lead the Brooks Bandits to a 6-3 win over the Cobras de Terrebonne in the opening game Saturday at the 2017 RBC Cup.
The Bandits improved to 7-2 in the preliminary round in three all-time trips to Canada’s National Junior A Championship, and stayed unbeaten in three games against East Region competition.
Prkusic, one of seven returnees from the team that lost to West Kelowna in the national semifinals a year ago, scored the third and fourth of Brooks’ five goals in the first period, after the Bandits had given back an early two-goal advantage.
An quick power play led to an quick goal; Terrebonne goaltender Jérémy Bélisle tried to redirect a routine point shot into the corner, but instead pushed it right into the chest of Arnaud Vachon, who buried the loose puck for a 1-0 lead only 35 seconds in.
Parker Foo doubled the lead just over three minutes later, going five-hole on Bélisle on a penalty shot, but the LHJQ champions, the first Quebec team to reach the RBC Cup since 2006, battled right back.
First it was William Gignac, taking a short pass from Vincent Gignac after a turnover in the Brooks zone and beating Mitch Benson to make it 2-1 at 7:15, before Loök Léveillé hammered in a one-timer on a five-on-three to bring the Cobras even at 9:36.
But Prkusic, the Bandits’ captain, restored his team’s lead on the second half of that Terrebonne power play, keeping on a two-on-one and ripping a wrist shot past the glove of Bélisle for a shorthanded marker and a 3-2 lead.
Less than a minute later he slipped a centering feed from Ty Mappin through Bélisle to give Brooks a two-goal advantage again, and Cale Makar circled off the half-boards and snapped in the 5-2 goal in the final minute of a wild first period.
The Cobras and Bandits were first and eighth, respectively, in goals per game among the 132 CJHL teams during the regular season, and combined for 205 goals in 38 playoff games, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see the offensive fireworks in the opening 20 minutes.
But the defences took over in the second; after the teams racked up 31 shots on goal in the first period (19-12 in favour of the Bandits), they managed just nine apiece in a scoreless second.
Conner Jean snuck a shot through Bélisle just 44 seconds into the third to push the Brooks lead to four, and Eric Leger spun and beat Benson from the corner midway through the final stanza to get that back for the Cobras, providing the final goals.
Brooks finished with a 39-30 advantage in shots on goal.
Both teams are right back to action Sunday; Brooks is up first, taking on the Penticton Vees in an all-West Region showdown (3:30 p.m. ET), followed by the Cobras meeting the Trenton Golden Hawks (7:30 p.m. ET).
“We knew this game would be a good test. They were a good team today, just a few of their defensive breakdowns we capitalized on, and I think that was the deciding factor. [The win] is huge. We’re starting the tournament off right; we’ve got a little more confidence going into tomorrow when we play [the Penticton Vees], and we’ll be looking at nothing less than to win tomorrow as well.”
– Cale Makar of the Brooks Bandits on starting the RBC Cup with a win; Makar won gold in Cobourg at the 2015 World Junior A Challenge with Team Canada West and was part of the Brooks Bandits’ team that finished fourth at the 2016 RBC Cup
“I was actually very impressed with the way we came out; we know Trenton very well and they play a hard, physical, fast game, and we actually play that style of game as well. It was a tough-fought battle, obviously – you know, nobody’s going to give up. It was a good start for us. These teams are the best in the country; we got the win that we needed right now, and now we just have to focus on the next game.”
– Brent Tully, head coach of the Cobourg Cougars, on his team’s start to the tournament