When the Listowel Cyclones won their first Cherrey Cup, Blake Nichol was eight years old.

He remembers watching the final game against Owen Sound, turning to his brother and saying that he wanted to one day help his hometown team to another trophy.

Twelve years later, he got his chance – notching three assists and topping the team’s penalty minute table as the Cyclones picked up their second championship in their then-45-year history.

“It was pretty special to win with a lot of guys that I grew up playing hockey against and with,” Nichol says.

Celebrations of that big win didn’t last long. The Cherrey Cup win put the Cyclones in the semifinals for the Sutherland Cup – the top prize in Ontario Junior B hockey – where they were breezily dispatched by London in five games.

“Because we had never been there before, we celebrated the fact we had won the Cherrey Cup – and maybe took for granted the Sutherland Cup playoff a bit,” says Listowel head coach Jason Brooks.

This season, with the core of last year’s team returning, the goal was clear. Winning 43 of 50 regular season games was nice. Dispatching Guelph, Waterloo and Elmira to capture a second straight Cherrey Cup was better. But there was still more to achieve.

“We didn’t make it quite as far as we wanted to last year, so having that in the back of our minds … propelled us to go forward and keep going,” Nichol says.

Keep going they did – first beating London in a rematch of last year’s semifinal, then sweeping Caledonia to capture the first Sutherland Cup in Listowel history.

One day later, the team’s players paraded through the city on the back of pickup trucks.

“We were just screaming, yelling constantly for two, three hours straight,” says Max Coyle, a defenceman in his third year with the Cyclones.

“I had no idea it was going to be that cool.”

Forward Holdyn Lansink says the parade wound its way down virtually every street in Listowel, with many of supporters coming out of their houses as they heard the honking and other noises approaching.

Listowel Cyclones parade

Many Listowel players credit their success to Brooks, a Listowel native who played for the Cyclones and has OHL head coaching experience.

Brooks acknowledges that he can come across as a “grumpy coach” – although he prefers the word “demanding.” Some of his players take it a step farther, with Nichol using terms like “hard-nosed” and “old-school” to describe him.

“If he’s screaming and yelling … he knows we can do better, and he’ll get it out of us,” he says.

Lansink praises Brooks for his in-game adjustments, and ability to get his players to adopt new strategies on the fly.

“What he says can change a game,” he says.

“He’s the best coach in Ontario. He took a seventh- or eighth-place team and he won a Cherrey Cup two years later.”

Winning a third straight Cherrey Cup or repeating as Sutherland Cup champions is never an easy feat, but it will be a particularly tough challenge for the Cyclones.

They have nine players graduating – including captains Nichol and Caleb Warren – while others are uncertain about what their futures hold.

While it may not be clear exactly who will be lacing up skates for the Cyclones this fall, Brooks can be assured of knowing at least where many of those players will come from.

Unlike major junior teams, who bring in players from across the province and beyond, the Cyclones draw mainly from Listowel and neighbouring communities.

Of the 22 players who suited up for Listowel during the playoffs, four hailed from Listowel. Many others came from nearby communities like Palmerston, Hanover and Clinton.

That, Brooks says, gives the Cyclones an advantage – because it provides more connections between the team’s players and their fans, leading to packed stands and a loud atmosphere during important games.

“We’re talking Grey-Bruce and we’re talking Huron-Perth kids,” he says.

“We’re not talking imports from Sudbury and North Bay and the Soo – we’re talking local families.”

With reporting by Randy Steinman