With a 13-2 record and an undefeated home streak, the Brooks Bandits continue to dominate in the 2023-24 Alberta Junior Hockey League season.
Fresh off their recent 4-1 victory over the Drumheller Dragons, the team demonstrates that they’re not just a contender but a force to be reckoned with. Goaltender Johnny Hicks shined in the weekend’s matches, allowing just one goal across two games.
But to fully grasp the Bandits’ remarkable performance, it’s worth taking a look back at their transformative journey, marked by leadership, community support, and a move to a state-of-the-art arena.
The Early Struggles and Turning Points
When the Brooks Bandits were awarded an expansion franchise by the AJHL in 1999, the excitement was palpable. However, the team’s inaugural season in 2000-01 was a reality check. Among the roster was Curtis Glencross, who played with the Bandits from 2000-2002, and would later go on to have a 12-year NHL career, spending seven of those years with the Calgary Flames. Despite the potential seen in players like Glencross, for the first four seasons, the Bandits struggled to find their footing, failing to make the playoffs year after year. It was a hard pill to swallow for a team eager to make its mark.
The 2004 Season And The Turning Point
In 2004, a unique opportunity presented itself. The Crowsnest Pass Timberwolves took a leave of absence for a season, and their players were dispersed among other teams. The Bandits acquired new talent that would become instrumental in changing the team’s fortunes.
Under the leadership of head coach Kevin Higo and with significant contributions from key player Chad Johnson, who went on to play 192 games in the NHL, the Bandits advanced to the AJHL playoffs for the first time. It was a watershed moment, signaling the end of their early struggles.
In 2008, after three years of steady progress, Kevin Higo accepted an assistant coaching position with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the major junior Western Hockey League.
The Bandits were at a crossroads again. They filled the void by hiring Brian Curran, an ECHL head coach and former NHL enforcer. Although the team clinched first in the South Division, they failed to advance past the cross-over division playoff finals against the Grande Prairie Storm.
Then, on October 16, 2009, Curran was released, and assistant Ryan Papaioannou stepped in as the head coach.
The Bandits finished fifth in the South Division in the 2009-10 season and suffered a second-round playoff loss. However, this period also marked a significant milestone: The transition from the dilapidated Old Centennial Arena to the state-of-the-art Centennial Regional Arena on January 20, 2010.
For fans and players alike, the old venue was less an arena and more a hindrance—unfit for the growing aspirations of the Brooks Bandits.
Contrast that with the new arena: 74,000 square feet of modern facilities, including an NHL-size ice surface and unique “bowl-style” seating. Its multipurpose venue can host concerts and other big events, accommodating up to 2,500 people in various configurations.
Ryan Papaioannou’s impact on the Bandits and the community of Brooks has been monumental. Winning accolades like the AJHL Coach of the Year three times, he also secured the Darcy Haugan/Mark Cross Memorial Award as a finalist for the CJHL Coach of the Year for the 2021-22 season. Under his guidance, the Bandits captured numerous championships and set league records, solidifying Papaioannou’s status as a community hero and a key figure in the Bandits’ continued success.
The Golden Years
Since 2012, the Bandits have been a dominant force, winning seven AJHL Championship titles and four National Championships.
A notable alumni from this period is Cale Makar, who played with the Brooks Bandits from 2015-2017 and has since become an elite defenseman in the NHL. Makar’s accolades include winning the Norris Trophy in the 2021-2022 season as the league’s Top Defenseman, and in the same year, he clinched the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the MVP of the postseason, leading his team to a Stanley Cup victory.
The Present and Beyond
Today, the Bandits are more than just a hockey team; they’re a phenomenon. With a recent eight-game winning streak and an 8-0 win against the Lloydminster Bobcats, they show no signs of slowing down.
The community of Brooks has come to expect this level of excellence, and the players know it. “He does an unbelievable job every day, keeping us focused,” says Dario Beljo, attributing much of the team’s recent success to head coach Ryan Papaioannou.
The Team and the Community
In sports, the relationship between a team and its community often defines the franchise’s soul. For the Brooks Bandits, this relationship is nothing short of symbiotic. The community of Brooks doesn’t just support the team; it breathes life into it.
The community’s unwavering support mirrors the Bandits’ success on the ice. “It makes the world of difference in a playoff game. You need the energy; you need the crowd to back you up,” says Heath Armstrong, emphasizing the community’s role in the team’s performance. This isn’t just fan support; it’s a partnership. The community expects wins, and the Bandits deliver, creating a cycle of success that has become the norm in Brooks.
Dario Beljo, a three-year veteran of the team, considers Brooks his “second home.” He says, “The people of Brooks and the community, that’s probably the most special part about playing here. They’re always supporting us throughout everything.” This sentiment is echoed by many players who have donned the Bandits jersey. The community’s energy and excitement are not just felt during home games but are a constant presence that fuels the team’s ambition and drive.
But it’s not a one-way street. The Bandits give back to the community that supports them, whether through local events, charity work, or simply by being role models for young, aspiring hockey players in the area. The Bandits are deeply woven into the fabric of Brooks, and this mutual respect and support have made the team more than just a
Where to Watch and Support the Brooks Bandits: FloHockey
If you’re looking to catch all the Brooks Bandits’ games, FloHockey is your go-to platform. As a dedicated service for ice hockey enthusiasts, FloHockey offers both live and on-demand broadcasts of AJHL games. Whether you want to watch on your TV, computer, tablet, or phone, FloHockey has you covered.
Simply sign up for an account, and you’ll have access to all the action, ensuring you never miss a moment of what the Bandits are up to this season.
How to Maximize Your Brooks Bandits Watching Experience on FloHockey
So you’re all set to catch the Brooks Bandits in action, but how do you turn it from mere viewing into an unforgettable experience? Let’s break it down:
The Right Company
Nothing beats the thrill of a live game like sharing it with people who get it. Whether it’s your family who’ve been Bandits fans for years or friends who bring the same energy you do, the right company can make every goal feel like a personal victory.
Let’s be real, snacks are the unsung heroes of any sports event. Canadians know this all too well—whether it’s a hearty poutine, a plate of nachos, or a good old bag of ketchup chips. Ensure you’re stocked up; you don’t want to run to the kitchen during a power play.
Wearing your team’s jersey or colors can make you feel part of the action. It’s not just fabric; it’s a flag you wear to show where your loyalties lie. So put on that Bandits cap or scarf and show your pride!
Now, here’s the kicker—none of the above matters if your screen is buffering during a crucial moment. A high-speed internet connection is like the goalie of your setup—underappreciated but vital. It ensures you catch every pass and shot and save in real-time, making your at-home viewing almost as good as being in the stands.
For those in Brooks, you’re in luck. The city has been investing in infrastructure like BrooksNET to provide high-speed options. They offer high-speed internet through a distribution network of internet service providers, like Galaxy Fibre, providing speeds up to 2 Gbps.