The Brooks Bandits are back in the Centennial Cup tournament. The defending champions qualified for the biggest event in Junior A hockey with an overtime victory in Game 5 of their league finals against the Spruce Grove Saints.

Brandon product Hughie Hooker is in his second season in Brooks and knows what it takes to win a Centennial Cup. While Hooker is technically going for his second straight national title, he was injured during the event last year and had to watch from the sidelines.

"I'm super excited to be a part of it this year," Hooker explains. "The biggest thing I can take away from last year is watching this team come together as a team. The guys stuck together. Everyone did their job and bought into the system. I think that's one of the biggest pieces to coming out with the championship."

Hunter Wallace is also in his second campaign with the Bandits and has put up 40 points exactly in back-to-back seasons. The Oak Lake native hit this mark in only 28 games this season compared to 58 games last year. He's looking forward to this Centennial Cup even more than the last, with it taking place in Manitoba.

"Going back to play in front of my friends and family will be great. It's pretty close to my home. It's only about two hours east from where I live," Wallace continues. "I've been to Portage throughout my Manitoba U18 career, playing out there. So, I'm familiar with the rink and familiar with Portage. It'll be a great experience to come home and play for a national championship."

Hooker is also very familiar with the Portage area.

"It'll definitely be a really cool experience. I have a lot of family in both Winnipeg and Brandon. So, I should have a lot of fans out there, and it'll be cool to play in front of all of them," says Hooker. "I've played in Portage a lot, whether it's been in bantam, I actually played against Portage in a playoff series when I was in U18. I played there a lot, and I'm looking forward to coming back."

The Bandits are technically back-to-back champions already, beating the Pickering Panthers last year and defeating the Prince George Spruce Kings in 2019. The Centennial Cup was not handed out in either 2020 or 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While no players from the 2019 team are currently with the program, they want to help the franchise become the first team in history to win three straight National Junior A Championships. Wallace says he's loved his experience with the Bandits and adds there would be no better way to end his tenure.

"It's been another great year. To be a part of another championship run in the AJHL and to try and defend our title in the national championships again it's been great," Wallace continues. "We have another great group of guys this year to do it again. I'm super excited."

For those who have yet to catch the defending champions in action, Hooker describes the team's playstyle.

"I'd say we're a very fast team. We have a lot of systems that everyone buys into. We're quick. We move the puck quick. We skate quick, and we're very offensive-minded."

Brooks has two other Manitobans who will be returning to their home province. Rookie defenceman Sam Court is from Winnipeg and finished the season third on the Bandits in points with 72. Jordan Hughsman is also a Winnipegger and scored 20 points in 39 games.

The Brooks Bandits' first game at the Centennial Cup will go down on May 11 at 3:30 against the Yarmouth Mariners.