Oil Barons head to Russia for tournament

The Fort McMurray Oil Barons gambled by asking their players to give up a week of their summer and it paid off: they’re off for a trip of a lifetime to Russia.

The Oil Barons jetted from Fort McMurray Tuesday for the World Junior Club Cup. Before the tournament starts next Monday, the Oil Barons play two exhibition games in Moscow.

“We were approached by Hockey Canada and the CJHL in April of this year,” Fort McMurray coach and GM Gord Thibodeau said in an interview.

“This is a once in a lifetime trip for these kids. We want to win the tournament, but we want everyone to experience the culture and customs of Russia as well.”

There are two pools in the eight-team tournament — Russia, U.S., Slovakia and Latvia in Pool A, and Canada, Sweden, Belarus and the Czech Republic in the other.

The Alberta Junior Hockey League team started training camp July 22 with 33 players. Thibodeau admits that — yes — it was hard to ask teenagers to lace skates up a month earlier, but … “We are hoping to do lots of sightseeing in Moscow and Omsk, experience a new culture and represent our community and country successfully,” Thibodeau said. “It will definitely help with team building and bonding in the early stages of our season.”

There will be challenges, though.

Thibodeau says the long flight and adjusting to Russian food and time zones are perhaps the biggest. So what is the coach’s advice?

“Get your rest, keep hydrated and be open minded, don’t worry about things we can’t control.”

The Oil Barons will take 25 players to Russia, including 11 from Edmonton and area. A group of 25 parents and fans are also making the trip.

The Oil Barons return to Alberta to open the regular season at home Sept. 16 against the Okotoks Oilers.

In other AJHL news, the Bonnyville Pontiacs locked up their coaching staff for the next five years, signing coach and GM Chad Mercier and assistant general manager and associate coach Ryan Pollock.

The AJHL opens regular season play Sept. 9.

By Cam Tait, edmontonjournal.com