Red Deer, Alta.- It has been over 270 days since the Alberta Golden Bears and Mount Royal Cougars took the ice for a game, but that streak will come to an end when the two Alberta schools face Hockey Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp team.
The Golden Bears will open the exhibition schedule with two games on Nov. 28/29, while MRU will follow them with their pair of games on Dec. 5/6.
Since 2014, the Canadian WJC team has faced a U SPORTS All-Star team, but this year, with travel restrictions and the absence of a U SPORTS season, only the two schools will play a pair of games. Before 2014 the two schools and the University of Calgary played against the selection camp ahead of the 2013 World Junior tournament.
This year’s games will take place in Red Deer, Alta. at Westerner Park Coliseum, home to the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. Both teams will undergo COVID-19 testing before entering the secured bubble of the WJC Selection Camp.
“We were all pretty excited when we heard that we had this opportunity; it’s nice to have something to look forward to,” said Alberta’s Nolan Volcan, a sophomore forward. “Competing against guys on your team is good, but it was getting old. The vibe switched when we found out this could happen.”
The Golden Bears have a roster flush with talent, and between the two U SPORTS schools, they are most likely to beat the Canadian team. Clayton Kirichenko, Ryan Rehill, Steven Owre, Grayson Pawlenchuk, and Cole Sanford all played for the U SPORTS All-Stars in 2019, and the Golden Bears have been a dominant team in Canada West for several years.
Ryley Lindgren was Mount Royal’s lone representative on the 2019 team and will have the chance to play the young prospects again. Between him and Alberta’s Pawlenchuck, the WJC Selection Camp Team will be up against two of Canada West’s best offensive players, with both having led their respective teams in 2019-20.
“Looking back on last year, it was different watching them win the World Junior Championship knowing I had played against them and was able to help with their selection camp,” said Pawlenchuk, who will be returning to Red Deer after playing his junior career with the Rebels.
Facing Former Teammates
While returning home is one factor for Pawlenchuck, for the rest of the team, it will be facing former teammates. Expect to see some friendly exchanges ahead of puck drop from both the Cougars and Golden Bears, as 10 MRU players and nine from Alberta will face former teammates on the WJC team.
Alberta’s Braydyn Chizen spent time alongside Canada’s Braden Schlender and Kaeden Korzac while with Brandon and Kelowna in the WHL. Although he was around them in their early junior days, he was an important older figure that was a model for the younger players. Centre Josh Paterson also played with two on the WJC team, having spent time with Seth Jarvis and now NHLer Kirby Dach.
On MRU, goaltender Kurtis Chapman played with Alex Newhook in his BCHL days and Peyton Krebs with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL. Captain Tyler Hegelson skated alongside Canada’s Adam Beckman with the Spokane Chiefs in his WHL days.
A National Stage
The games against the World Junior team will be broadcasted on a national stage, making this one of the rare opportunities U SPORTS players have to catch the eye of those not regularly watching university hockey. U SPORTS used to be broadcast on TSN, before moving over to Sportsnet and now the CBC, and with these games, it will make it’s returned to TSN’s cable and online channels.
“It’s massive, I know I’ll have a lot of people watching, and it’s a good showcase for our guys too, said Volcan to 49 Sports. “We have a lot of guys that want to continue their careers after leaving the U of A, so to play well in front of a lot of eyes is a great opportunity.”
Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro, two of TSN’s mainstay broadcasters, will be providing the commentary on the broadcasts, which will be available on TSN 2 over cable/satellite and the TSN and Hockey Canada websites.
TSN’s opportunity is a chance for the Alberta and MRU players to showcase themselves and U SPORTS hockey to make a good impression on hockey fans ahead of the 2021-22 university season.
Player to watch Alberta Golden Bears: Noah Philp
While the aforementioned group of 2019 U SPORTS All-Stars would have been an easy selection for a player to watch, Noah Philp catches my eye. Although he does not have the seniority of some other players and won’t push players around, he carries a name and a pedigree.
Noah’s older brother, Luke, was tremendously successful in the U SPORTS-Canada games and has gone on to play in the AHL. For Noah, he showed he could score in spades with nearly a point-per-game last season in Canada West. With 27 points, he tied Steven Owre, who was on the 2019 U SPORTS team.
Additionally, Philp played with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds and has plenty of experience against Canada’s Bowen Byram, Seth Jarvis and others from his junior hockey time.
Player to watch MRU Cougars: Ryley Lindgren
Last year, Lindgren scored against the WJC Team, a squad that went on to win the gold medal at the IIHF Tournament. Although he won’t have the star-studded U SPORTS roster alongside him, he is fully capable of scoring with his Cougars teammates, having put his name on 31 goals last season.
Now a fourth year, the 25-year-old Lindgren is a full-grown man, a half-decade older than the oldest player on Team Canada. If the university teams are to win against Canada, they will rely on more senior, experienced, but skilled players, which Lindgren is.
Other players to keep an eye on the Cougars are Connor Blake and captain Tyson Helgesen. While these players have prior experience in U SPORTS hockey, new addition Rylan Yaremko is coming from the NCAA and is an older player. Yaremko has experience playing against skilled youngsters, including some that have been/could be in the USA Hockey team for the tournament.