TORONTO, ON – Team Canada is nearly ready to drop the puck. On Tuesday, U SPORTS International announced the 23 players and eight staff members that will represent the Canadian men’s ice hockey team on their quest for gold at Lucerne 2021.
Canada won a bronze medal at Krasnoyarsk 2019, defeating the heavily favoured Kaskakhs in the bronze medal game, as the hosts Russians went on to win the gold medal. In 2021, the Canadians are looking to change the colour of the medal.
With the Lucerne 2021 Universiade being pushed back from January to December, the Canadian team features players from every conference in U SPORTS, not just one of the three. However, the Games do conflict with many university exam schedules.
Team Canada will play in Group B, alongside the USA, Slovakia, Latvia, and Estonia, with the tournament opener on Nov. 10 against the Estonians. Sursee will host the preliminary games before the semifinals, and medal games move to Bossard Arena, home of EV Zug, one of Switzerland’s largest professional hockey clubs.
Head Coach: Gardiner MacDougall (UNB)
University of New Brunswick Reds Head Coach Gardiner MacDougall will coach the Canadian team in Lucerne, looking to add a FISU gold medal to his already illustrious resume. The native of Bedeque, PEI, returns to the FISU hockey scene after coaching Canada to a bronze medal at Granada 2015.
There is no doubt that the seven-time national champion is the right coach for this role in 2021. While the 2019 U CUP victory with UNB is well in the past, MacDougall brings experience of winning in a tournament structure and running systems that win hockey games.
Although he went a year without coaching a competitive game, MacDougall’s 22 years and 500+ wins make him overqualified to lead Team Canada in Lucerne. He will also rely on UNB starting goaltender Rylan Parenteau between the pipes for Canada while bringing along top UNB forwards Tyler Bolad, Sam Dove-McFalls, and rookie Austen Keating.
Assistant Coaches and General Manager
Mark Howell is back in a familiar position with the Canadian FISU Team, working alongside Macdougall in Granada 2015 when Canada won bronze.
The Calgary Dinos Head Coach is off to a fast start with a very young Dinos team and will bring defender Ryan Gagnon to Switzerland.
With Howell and MacDougall primarily selecting the roster, it swayed heavier towards student-athletes from the AUS and Canada West conferences, with only two forwards, a defenceman and a goaltender coming from the OUA.
While the OUA began later than the other conferences in 2021, it put those players in a difficult situation, basing themselves nearly all on past performance and reputation rather than a hot start.
Although the OUA does not make up a large portion of the roster, it fills the coaching staff. uOttawa Gee-Gees Head Coach Patrick Gradmatire joins as an Assistant Coach, as does Western Mustangs bench boss Clarke Singer. Rounding out the coaching staff is Queen’s Gaels Head Coach Brett Gibson and Toronto’s Ryan Medel.
The coaching staff offers FISU and international experience from top to bottom and successful U SPORTS Head Coaches with their respective teams.
FORWARDS TO WATCH
Mitch Balmas (Saint Mary’s)
Saint Mary’s Huskies forward Mitch Balmas got off to a stellar start in 2019-20, helping the Huskies reach the U CUP semi-finals before COVID-19 shut down the tournament. A former Cape Breton Screaming Eagle, Balmas took no time to adjust from the QMJHL to the AUS, scoring 17 goals and 43 points in 27 regular-season AUS games as a rookie.
Already SMU’s captain as a third-year student, second-year player, Balmas is leading the Huskies through a year that hasn’t been easy. They have not gotten the start they hoped for and have taken time to adjust to new Head Coach Tyler Naugler, who replaced veteran Head Coach Trevor Stienberg. Balmas has also led the Huskies through dealing with a severe injury a teammate sustained against StFX.
Joining the FISU team, the 2020 AUS Rookie of the Year brings elite scoring and will have an opportunity to play with highly skilled players at a level that he does not have in AUS action.
Jonathan Yantsis (Queen’s)
There might not be an OUA rookie with more chaché and scoring prowess in 2021-22. A freshman with the Queen’s Gaels, Yantsis has settled quickly into the OUA, scoring five points in his first two games in Kingston. While he had potential pro opportunities after a rookie camp with the NHL’s LA Kings, Yantsis committed to the Gaels, becoming one of the highest-scoring OHL players to turn to U SPORTS in recent years.
Through four seasons with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, Yantsis scored over 38 goals twice, hitting the coveted 50 goal mark in 2018-19, finishing with 73 points. He is a fast, skilled forward who will tag along with Team Canada assistant coach Brett Gibson, his Head Coach at Queen’s.
After five OUA games, the right-winger is still looking for his first OUA goal, but he has already been productive with five assists through two games, albeit against a lesser RMC Paladins team.
Tyler Boland (UNB)
If there is a player who knows how to succeed in MacDougall’s system, it is Tyler Boland. A member of the UNB Reds U CUP winning teams in 2017 and 2019, Boland brings winning experience to Team Canada and familiarity with systems.
While the Newfoundland-born forward has not started the 2021-22 season off at an astounding pace compared to the rest of the AUS, he is still averaging over a point-per-game with 14 points in 12 games playing integral minutes for UNB.
Boland is a versatile player, a valuable skill in a regular season, but invaluable to a tournament roster. While he can certainly defend, he is an offensive workhorse, improving in each of his three U SPORTS seasons and rounding into form at the right time for the Universiade with points in five of his last six games.
DEFENDERS TO WATCH
Owen Headrick (UPEI)
The Headrick family is synonymous with Canadian university hockey these days, with Owen in his third season with the UPEI Panthers and sister Jana in her second season with the UNB Reds, after three with the Toronto Varsity Blues.
After bouncing around the NCAA, OHL and a brief ECHL stint, Owen Headrick has finally found stability and consistency on Prince Edward Island, establishing himself as one of the premier blueliners in U SPORTS while also contributing offensively.
The UPEI Panthers have allowed the second least goals in the AUS this season, only behind the UNB Reds, and Headrick has played an immense role in that success, and he boasts a +8 through 11 games.
Calm with the puck at his stick; the 24-year-old will be an essential part of Canada’s powerplay in Lucerne, advancing the puck up the ice with ease while also having a solid shot himself.
He might not be the most exciting player on the ice, but the scoresheet and opponents certainly remember Headrick after most games.
Off the ice, Owen and Jana are advocates for First Nations youth in sport and hockey, helping out their community in the Garden River First Nation.
Nicolas Mattinen (uOttawa)
While Mattinen may be a peculiar addition over some of the other available players across U SPORTS, he brings defensive solidity to Canada’s lineup. A former Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, Mattinen returned home to Ottawa after spending his OHL career in London, Flint, Hamilton and Oshawa.
As a rookie in 2019-20, the 2016 sixth-round pick played a critical role in uOttawa’s run to the Queen’s Cup final, where they fell in triple overtime to the Guelph Gryphons. That year, the right-handed defender scored 15 points in 24 games and helped the Gee-Gees to the OUA’s seventh-best goals-against rate.
Now two years older, Mattinen joins his Head Coach Grandmaitre in Lucerne as one of the few OUA representatives on the ice in men’s ice hockey.
Connor Hobbs (Saskatchewan)
A former prospect of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, Connor Hobbs is not your ordinary U SPORTS rookie. However, he has gotten off to a reasonably strong start on a new team in Saskatchewan, and he has been playing under two-time Olympic Champion Head Coach Mike Babcock.
Selected 143rd overall by the Capitals in the 2015 NHL Draft, Hobbs went on to play in their AHL system, suiting up for the Capitals affiliate Hershey Bears for three seasons before moving on to the Saskatchewan Huskies.
While he did not go to his hometown Regina Cougars, Hobbs joined a strong and rebuilt Huskies squad in 2021-22, where he has found immediate success. The 24-year-old U SPORTS rookie has eight points in six games, helping the Huskies to one of only three perfect records (6-0-0) in U SPORTS.
GOALIES: Parenteau (UNB), Flodell (Acadia), Bishop (Toronto)
It is not a surprise that Rylan Parenteau will guard the crease for MacDougall’s Team Canada. Through five games this season, the fourth-year UNB goaltender has an absurd .954 save percentage, leaps and bounds ahead of any other goaltender in the AUS. While playing in front of a stellar UNB defence helps, Parenteau, comes into the Universiade well prepared for top-level shooters.
Backing up Parenteau will be Acadia’s Logan Flodell and former Toronto Maple Leaf Alex Bishop. Flodell has started all ten games for the Acadia Axemen this season in what has been a troubling year for the U CUP hosts. However, despite facing 293 shots, he has maintained a .891 save percentage. With a more robust defence, Flodell will post better numbers.
Alex Bishop will likely be the third goalie for the Canadian team, but he already has a bit of NHL experience, having been called up to the Maple Leafs on an emergency basis for an October game against the Ottawa Senators.
The Varsity Blues and Bishop have gotten out to a rough start in 2021, with a pair of losses to Brock, but with consistent top performances and save percentages above.917 in his first two seasons; there is a high chance Bishop hits his stride soon.