What represents Christmas in Canada? Is it the tradition of honouring the birth of Jesus by going to church? Nope, not anymore as an average of only six million Canadians attend church on Christmas day. Is it a gift-giving? Or is it hockey?
Such as the answer to most Canadian questions, the answer has to do with hockey, and it this case the World Junior Hockey Championship. Always dropping the puck on boxing day, the tournament has become a holiday tradition for hockey fans young and old from coast to coast and even to coast.
Featuring the best and brightest young hockey players the country has to offer, the tournament is appointment viewing for hockey fans and regularly records some of the highest sports viewership numbers annually.
But before the bright lights are put on the teenagers wearing the maple leaf, they must earn the right to be one of those 23 under the lights, and that starts with training camp. The training camp for the world juniors usually consists of 50 invited players, who are cut down to the final roster which travels to wherever the final tournament is being played. This year, the invited players will be battling it out hoping to book themselves a roster spot and plane ticket to the Czech Republic to represent Canada in some holiday hockey.
On Wednesday it was announced that the training camp will be held in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, Ontario, consisting of five days of practices and evaluations of the invited players. As part of the camp, Team Canada will face a team of U Sports all-stars in two games in front of fans.
The U Sports all-star game against the Canadian team has become somewhat of a tradition now and have given the juniors a good test every time they go up against them. Although the university athletes are often not up to the same skill level as the national team players, their age, size and physicality prove a good test for the youngsters who are bound to come up against tougher competition further on in the tournament.
For the U sports players, it presents them with an opportunity to showcase their skills against some of the best players in the country. Sure, the players are older and are facing opponents who have the eyes of the Canadian population on them, but it is still an important chance for the student-athletes to show that they can compete with the best junior players in the world.
Most of the U Sports athletes, likely all of the ones on the all-star team will have played alongside players who have represented their countries before, so this is an opportunity to show that their skills have not diminished by choosing school over a potential professional career.
The two games will take place at the Sixteen-Mile Sports Complex on December 11th and 12th, with tickets selling for $15. As for who will be dawning the U Sports crest in the pair of games, that will be announced in early December, likely a week before the matchups.
The U Sports team had one win and a loss in last year’s pair of games against the training camp squad.