If Team West hopes to capture gold at the World Junior A Challenge this week in Langley, B.C., they’ll have AJHL flavour at all three positions to help them achieve that goal.
Canada West Coach Kent Lewis of the BCHL’s Powell River Kings will especially lean on AJHL talent on the back end, where he has chosen a goaltender and three defenders from Alberta.
Leading the way is returning Camrose Kodiak and Chicago Blackhawk (6th round, 169 overall, 2011) draftee Sam Jardine.
The rough-and-tumble 18-year-old from Lacombe is looking forward to an improved performance over last year’s effort and says it’s still a big honour for him, his team and the league to be chosen for the club and to represent Canada.
“I am very honoured to have been chosen to represent my country. There are many great players in Canada and I have been one of the fortunate to be chosen to be here. I am not going to let my teammates down, my league or my country, as Team Canada West goes for Gold at the World Junior A Challenge,” says Jardine who has committed to play NCAA hockey at Ohio State University next season.
Jardine’s coach and GM Boris Rybalka says Jardine is the perfect kind of player for a short tournament such as this one and suspects he’ll play a leadership role on the club.
“The Camrose Kodiaks are very proud of Sam Jardine being chosen to play for his country.”
“Sam will be a leader for Team Canada West as he is a returning veteran. His speed, physical play, shot and special team play will definitely be an asset for coach Lewis,” he says.
“He will be able to play in all situations and this is very key in a short term competition.”
The Fort McMurray Oil Barons took the biggest single hit in the personnel department for this event, as both defender Colton Parayko (St. Albert) and forward Carson Cooper (Bow Island), both cracked the squad.
Both players eat 30-minutes-plus per night in AJHL duties, but so far the Barons haven’t missed much of a stride, completing a five-point road weekend with two wins in Grande Prairie and a SO loss in Drayton Valley.
Head coach and GM Gord Thibodeau says both players bring a dynamic and definitive flavour to the Canada West equation.
“Colton is a guy who will eat a lot of minutes for you, he’s not only a shutdown defenceman but he can also be key on the PK and powerplay units as well,” said Thibodeau.
“Carson is an energy guy that can fill any role they ask of him… he plays every shift like it’s the last shift… he’s a real step-up, gut-it-out kind of hockey player.”
Okotoks Oiler Rhett Holland is another returnee to the lineup on the blueline, bringing not only experience but a definitive phsyical presence. At 6’2″, 220 lbs., the Calgary product is hard to miss.
Oiler coach and GM James Poole calls Holland “a horse” who will be a shut-down guy and likely be asked to play against the top forwards from the other clubs.
“He just has such a physical edge out there, he really is such a strong defender, I think they will look to him to shut things down,” says Poole, who adds he isn’t surprised Canada West has leaned heavily on the AJHL on the back end.
“I think all of those guys (Holland, Jardine, Parayko) are special players; they are top-end guys with a lot of experience. They’re very deserving and will be key for this club, I’m sure.”
Up front, Sherwood Park Crusader Peter Quenneville will be looked to for some scoring and solid play at both ends of the ice.
The Edmonton product was leading the AJHL in scoring when he left for camp, with 12 goals and 20 helpers in 17 games.
Twice the league player of the week so far, CRU head coach and GM Tim Fragle is confident his player can fill any role the coaching staff asks of him in the tourney.
“He is very intelligent player that thinks a play ahead and plays in all situations. He possess a great shot and has excellent vision which help him really excel in power play situations,” says Fragle of Quenneville who will play NCAA hockey at Quinnipiac University next season.
“He has a very high skill level and is a student of the game. He is always striving to get better!”
Also representing the AJHL on the ice are goaltender Tyler Briggs of Lloydminster (Sherwood Park) and Canmore forward Connor Hoekstra (St. Albert), who will be in Langley with his head coach Andrew Milne, who is an assistant on Lewis’ staff.
Canada West will play in Group A, joined by Sweden and the United States, while Canada East, the Czech Republic and Russia will comprise Group B. Preliminary round play will run until Wednesday, Nov. 9, with both semifinals taking place Friday, Nov. 11. The gold medal game, which will be shown nationally on TSN/RDS, the official broadcasters of Hockey Canada, is set for Sunday, Nov. 13 (check your local listings). All preliminary round games, quarter-finals, semifinals and the bronze medal game can be seen live via webcast through FASTHockey at hockeycanada.fasthockey.com.
Canada West has appeared in four of the five gold medal games at the World Junior A Challenges, winning gold in 2006 in Yorkton, Sask., and 2007 in Trail, B.C., before settling for silver in 2008 in Camrose, Alta., and 2009 in Summerside, P.E.I. It finished fourth last year in Penticton, B.C.
FIVE NAMED TO CJHL PROSPECTS GAME
It was a big week for five other AJHL players, who have been invited to play in the CJHL Prospects game which will, for the first time be held in conjunction with the WJAC in Langley.
Forwards Chase McMurphy of the Calgary Mustangs and Ryan Berlin of the St. Albert Steel, defender Matt Benning and forward Carson Samoridny of the Spruce Grove Saints and goalie Matt Tomkins of the Sherwood Park Crusaders, have all made the squad which will be coached by Spruce Grove Saints bench-boss and GM Jason McKee.
The CJHL Prospects Game was created to showcase the top 40 NHL draft-eligible players in the CJHL. The CJHL Prospects Games feature players from the CJHL’s five western leagues competing against the top prospects from the CJHL’S five eastern leagues in a two-game total goal series.
CJHL Prospects Game #1 will be played at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. PT, with CJHL Prospects Game #2 set for Sunday, Nov. 13 at noon PT.
The games are available to watch free, online on Fasthockey.com.
– With files from AJHL/Hockey Canada