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19U Conference Championships set to kick off this weekend in Montreal and Surrey

With the 2017-2018 NCL regular season at an end, the 19U teams from across the country will be competing in their conference championships this weekend, with places at 2018 National Finals on the line. The Western Championships will be held in Surrey at the Guildford Recreation Centre while the Eastern Championships will be contested at Claude-Robillard in Montreal.

In the Eastern conference, CAMO is the defending conference champion in both the men’s and women’s categories. The CAMO men will have their work cut out for them if they want to repeat, entering the tournament as the 2nd seed in the Eastern Division, putting them on a collision course with conference leaders Mavericks Black (14-0-2). Mavericks Black are an imposing squad, having started the year winning their first 13 games in a row, but they did lose 2 of their last 3 games to end the season, demonstrating an upset is certainly not out of the question.

The other side of the bracket in the men's eastern championships will likely see three teams fighting for that all-important spot in the final, Dollard, Toronto Golden Jets, and Ottawa Titans Black. All three teams have played each other throughout the year, with each team winning at least one game against the other two during the regular season. Dollard, as winners of the East Division, have a bye to the semi-finals, while Titans Black and Golden Jets will have to meet in the quarter-finals, assuming Titans Black can get by Titans Blue in the opening game of the men's competition.

The semi-finals are doubly crucial at the Eastern Championships, as the winners not only advance to the championship game but also earn a spot at the National Finals, while the losers will have no chance of qualifying.

The focal point for the women’s competition at the Eastern Championships will once again be the CAMO squad. In the first three years of the NCL, the CAMO 19U women have won gold at all three Eastern Conference Championships and all three National Championships. The CAMO women are the favourites again, having gone an undefeated 15-0-0 during the regular season. As three-time defending champions, and having lost only once in the past two years, CAMO present a daunting challenge for their opponents. On the other hand, the 19U Eastern Conference is deep and talented, and the squads from Capital Wave, Dollard, St-Lambert, and Mavericks have all tested CAMO throughout the year.

Capital Wave, second seeds in the conference after going 11-1-3, may have the best chance of toppling CAMO. The two teams met in late March in Ottawa, and Wave gave CAMO their closest game of the season at 13-11. Wave and CAMO will also open the tournament against each other, with the winner advancing directly to the championship game as well as qualifying for the National Finals, while the loser will have a 2nd chance to qualify on Saturday.

The other four teams in the women’s competition will have a tough road to the finals as a result of finishing outside the top two in the standings. Number three St-Lambert and number six Dollard Gold, and number four Dollard Black and number five Mavericks will meet on Friday at Claude Robillard. The winners of these two games playing again Saturday morning for the right to play the loser of CAMO and Capital Wave in the semi-final. To qualify for the finals, one of those teams would have to win three games in just over 24 hours, certainly no easy task.

The Western Conference Championships will also be getting underway this weekend in Surrey, British Columbia. The Western Championships will have a new wrinkle this year because of the addition of the Crossover Champions also earning a place at the National Finals. The Saskatchewan men and the Pacific Storm women have already qualified for the National Finals in Montreal by virtue of their victories in the February crossover event; and as such, two additional men’s and women’s teams from the Western Conference will qualify for the National Finals at the Western Championships. Those spots will go the highest placing teams not already qualified, meaning that if either the Storm women or the Sask men advance to the finals, the bronze medal games will also determine a qualifier for the National Finals.

The Saskatchewan men are the favourites at the Championships after finishing in first place with a sterling 14-0-2 record. Pacific Storm, as the defending Western Conference Champion and the 2nd seed in the tournament, will be hopeful they can be the ones to topple Saskatchewan. They handed Sask one of their two losses during the regular season and will meet the prairie boys in the opening one vs two game. A win will secure Pacific Storm a place in gold medal game and the National Finals, while a loss will have them fall into a dangerous semi-final game on Saturday.

Three other Western 19U teams will be hoping to reach that semi-final on Saturday: Fraser Valley, Calgary Torpedoes, and Tsunami/Wild. The third seeds from Fraser Valley have proven to be a dangerous opponent for many teams this year, and it would not be a surprise to see them in the finals come Sunday. The Calgary Torpedoes and Tsunami/Wild squads have also shown themselves to be capable of making an upset as well, and both teams have steadily improved as the year has gone along. They will be hoping to peak at exactly the right time for the Championships.

Torpedoes and Tsunami/Wild will open the tournament against each other, with the winner advancing to face Fraser Valley. The Torpedoes are a perfect 5-0-0 against Tsunami/Wild this season, but many of the games have been tight. Even with an opening loss though, it's important to remember that both teams will still have a chance to qualify for the National Finals in the bronze medal game.

The competition for the 19U women at the Western Conference follows the same format as the men. Friday night will feature a game between the first and second seeds in the Western Conference, with the winner advancing to the finals and the loser dropping into the semi-finals. Saskatchewan is the number one seed having gone 14-1-1 in the regular season, while Pacific Storm sits in the number two spot at 10-1-4. At the 19U Crossover, it was Pacific Storm who claimed the title, however, so despite being the second seed, it is Storm who have already qualified for the National Finals and Saskatchewan has work to do. Saskatchewan will be hoping to shake off the memories from that Crossover at the Guildford Recreation Centre, which saw them enter the event undefeated but drop three games in the competition on their way to finishing 4th.

The 19U women's western conference has been one of the most competitive NCL conferences ever, so in truth, all five teams have a legitimate chance to be the ones holding the trophies at the end of the weekend. In total, Saskatchewan, Pacific Storm, Edmonton Tsunami, Fraser Valley, and the Calgary Renegades have played 59 games amongst each other this year. 28 of those games have been decided by three goals or less. Another 15 have been decided by 4 or 5 goals. That’s 73% of games being decided by five goals or less. The first game of the championship is a real barometer of the competitiveness of the women’s west. Fraser Valley and the Calgary Renegades will meet on Friday, with the winner advancing to play Edmonton Tsunami in the quarter-finals. Renegades and Valley have met four times this year, with Valley going 2-1-1, and all four games decided by 2 goals or less. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be an exciting week in Surrey as these five women’s teams battle for the championship and berths at the National Finals.



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