Toronto, ON- When the University of Alberta Golden Bears caught wind that they would be playing against the Canadian World Junior team, they got excited. After crashing out of the 2019-20 Canada West playoffs to UBC in the semi-final, the group is finally getting a chance to play a game against a team other than their own.
While exhibition games against the WJC team are a far cry from the competitive Canada West season, they fill up some space on a schedule compiled with training sessions and practices. “It is nice to have something on the schedule; we have to give it our all because we do not know how many games we’ll get this year,” said Nolan Volcan, a second-year forward.
This year, practices have focused on individual skills, with guest coaches coming in to help run practices and offer something fresh for the players every day. While skills and some intra-squad scrimmages are better than no hockey at all, it is still a far cry from playing an actual game. “The vibe [around practice] switched when we found out,” said Volcan, “Competing against guys on your team is good, but it gets old after a little while.”
The youngest player on the Canadian team is 16-year-old Shane Wright of the Kingston Frontenacs, and the oldest member is 19. The youngsters will be lining up against Alberta’s players, who are all 20+. Although the Canadian team is years younger, the challenge they pose is a strong one.
Steven Owre got a chance to play against the Canadian World Junior Championship team last year with the U SPORTS All-Star team in Oakville, Ontario, and playing against the young-stars was far from easy. “They’re skilled, they’re fast, and everything they do is at a high tempo, so it’s a lot of fun for me; I like to play like that too, so this is going to be fun,” said the 24-year-old Owre.
While Owre is a veteran, Volcan, 21, has not played against a side full of prospects. Still, it is something he is looking forward to, especially in a peculiar season. “We’re grateful for the opportunity, and we’re going to be up for the challenge,” he said. “They’re all talented; just playing against some of these guys who are high picks will be fun, and it will be a good experience.”
Owre and the U SPORTS All-Stars exchanged results with the Canadians in 2019, but with two games alongside his Alberta teammates, it will be far different. “Theres a bit more bragging rights this year, and good for the program to showcase what we have,” he said. The Golden Bears will have five players from the 2019 All-Stars, giving them lots of experience and skill in this situation, although the man who scored against the juniors, Trevor Cox, has moved onto pro hockey in Slovakia.
2019-20 was a disappointing season for the U of A, who have won a U SPORTS leading, 16 U CUPS. With such a strong history, the team feels they can compete and even beat the Canadian juniors without an All-Star roster.
Their already studded roster may have lost Cox and others to graduation, but the incoming group, who are fresh off of junior hockey, have skill as well. Dylan Plouffe, formerly of the Vancouver Giants, played with Canada’s top-defender, Bowen Byram, in his WHL days. At the same time, the likes of Brayden Chizen, Chad Butcher, Ethan Sakowich, Tyler Preziuso, Jacob Bennet and NCAA transfer Daneel Lategan bring their fresh energy. “It will be a good look to see where our team is at, we brought in some new guys, and they have been good so far,” said Owre.
Getting back into game action is thrilling for the Golden Bears, who are grateful for the chance to play against a team other than themselves, but the players also know why they are there. “We’re there to help prepare them for the WJC and to give them the best game we can,” said Owre about facing the defending tournament gold medallists.
Games against Canada are a win in all aspects for the university and the program. It gives them a litmus test of where their team is and offers players national exposure with the games broadcast across Canada on TSN. For players hoping to move on in hockey after U SPORTS, these games give them a chance to show their worth to a broad audience, all while preparing Team Canada for their gold medal defence.
Disclaimer: The Canadian World Junior team had 2 positive COVID-19 tests in the Red Deer Selection Camp Bubble. At the time of writing, the status of the Golden Bears game is still on.
Cover photo: University of Alberta