The Brooks Bandits claimed the RBC Cup, the National Junior A Championship on home ice on Sunday. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)

Red Deer’s Luke Bast wins National Junior A title with Brooks Bandits

Luke Bast recalled quickly his first thought when the buzzer sounded at the National Junior A Championship final.

With time winding down in the RBC Cup, Bast and the Bandits lead the Prince George Spruce Kings 4-3 on home ice in Brooks.

Among the pandemonium when the seconds ticked down to zero and as the crowd cheered relentlessly– suddenly, in the moment Brooks clinched the title, the Red Deer Minor Hockey product had a moment of clarity.

“The only thing I could think of at that time was, how high am I going to throw my helmet?” said Bast, who launched his helmet high above the glass as he cruised on to the ice to celebrate with his teammates.

“When that buzzer went off, I was like let’s throw this thing as high as I can. It was so nice when the buzzer went off, all our hard work and dedication that we put in at the rink and the amount of time we spent with each other. The ebbs and flows throughout the season, it was so special.”

Bast, an 18-year-old defenceman on the Brooks Bandits, who won the RBC Cup Sunday with a narrow 4-3 victory over the Prince George Spruce Kings is still on cloud nine from the win.

He said in a phone interview Tuesday, winning the national title was the goal since he joined the Bandits two years ago. That first season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, the group made it all the way to the RBC Cup in Ontario but fell short in the final.

This time around, on home ice, revenge was served in more ways than one.

“It was unbelievable. I’ve been in Brooks for two years now and when I was getting recruited by (Ryan Papaioannou) he told me before I signed, they would have the RBC Cup in 2019,” Bast said.

“Obviously, from then on, I’ve been looking forward to this tournament. We’ve been building for it for the last two and a half years. For it to all come together the way it did, it was better than I expected.”

Not only did Brooks avenge the 2017 loss and capture their second national title in franchise history, but they also beat the team that prevented them from winning another title.

Prince George beat the Bandits in the Doyle Cup, a battle between the B.C. and Alberta Junior A Champions. The Spruce Kings won that series 4-2, but it was the Bandits who got the last laugh in the final on home ice. Bast said that home-ice advantage was critical for their group.

“They were our sixth guy out there. We went to Prince George (In the Doyle Cup) and we got spanked in their barn. Our record against P.G. finished 4-4, and we took four of those games on home ice. Obviously, the trend was the home ice was very key to the team success,” Bast said.

Brooks used the hometown advantage to the full extent in the tournament, running the table in round robin and through the playoff round to the title. Bast noted despite plenty of regular season records, the playoffs as a whole were a rollercoaster and it really wasn’t until the RBC Cup when they felt super confident about their game.

“We had a historic regular season, in the playoffs, we started to stumble and we lost our game. We didn’t play with as much swagger or confidence,” Bast added.

“We got to the Doyle Cup and our games was kind of in pieces. We didn’t panic. We stepped back and realized maybe we’re not that good. Going into the RBC Cup, this was our last chance to put a game together. Gradually each game, we got better and better and I guess you can say it did come together for us.”

The five-foot-nine, 170-pound blueliner was a key cog in that wheel, earning a nod as the top defenceman in the five-team tournament. He notched four points in round robin and another two in playoffs, including an assist in the final. That all pales in comparison to hoisting the title in front of the home crowd.

“There were a lot of other guys that could have won it. I’m very grateful and appreciative that I did. It was just a bonus on top of the national championship,” he said.

Next up for the defenceman is the 2019 NHL Draft. Bast is a bit of a longshot as the 137th ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and is trying not to worry too much about it.

After that, it’ll be another season in Brooks, followed by an NCAA career with the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

Where ever the path leads, Bast knows the memories of this past week will last a lifetime.

“The support from our community and how it was done it was pretty unbelievable,” Bast said.

“To win it on home ice, it was something very special and I’ll remember that for a very long time.”

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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The Brooks Bandits claimed the RBC Cup, the National Junior A Championship on home ice on Sunday. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada Images)

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