POTSDAM, NEW YORK – U SPORTS leading scorer Kyle Bollers described the group as “gritty,” and Canada’s lone FISU Games goal starts with the same letter.
After five days of training camp in Ottawa and Potsdam, Canada’s men’s hockey team drops the puck on the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games on Thursday night against Team Ukraine.
“The practices have been great, the pace has been high, and we’re all excited to get on the ice for the first game,” Bollers to 49 Sports. “It was easy to gel together and get to know everyone right off the bat.”
Canada hasn’t topped the podium in men’s hockey since Trentino 2013 when 2023 head coach Gardiner MacDougall led a team of AUS All-Stars to a gold medal.
Since then, Canada has won bronze at the last three tournaments, most recently defeating Kazakhstan in the bronze medal game at Krasnoyrark 2019.
10 years after their last gold medal, Canada will look to break the drought with a U SPORTS All-Star roster featuring eight OUA players, 12 AUS and four from Canada West.
After playing Ukraine, Canada will face Sweden, Japan, Latvia, and Czechia, looking to advance to the semifinal on Jan. 21 and the gold medal game on Jan. 23.
Fans can watch Canada’s games on FISU.TV, while TSN will broadcast the gold medal final from Lake Placid’s historic 1980 Olympic rink.
AHL experience leading fast forward group
With talent that has gotten looks and opportunities at the professional level, Canada’s forward group is among the most highly regarded at the tournament.
Headlined by U SPORTS leading goalscorer Kyle Bollers of TMU and former Laval Rocket forward turned AUS leading scorer Liam Hawel of StFX, there isn’t any doubt that the Canadian team will be able to score.
Bollers’ rise has been astounding since joining U SPORTS and the TMU Bold. Unlike many rookies, he came into the league from the OJHL, albeit as a quick leading scorer, but still from a lower level. While he played 168 OHL games for the Saginaw Spirit and Oshawa Generals, he really found his footing in Junior-A before starring in U SPORTS.
This season, he has a Canada-leading 30 points in 18 games, with 12 goals to his credit. Several ECHL teams have also looked at adding the 2021-22 OUA West Rookie of the Year.
“An electrifying player, I think you’d call him, he’s another player that on any given shift can break open a game,” Canada’s head coach Gardiner MacDougall told 49 Sports. “He’s a little more of a speed and slashes to an opening or to take advantage of a turnover… he’s really coming into his own.”
Although Bollers can exploit space with his quick starts, his quick release has gotten the most out of OUA goaltenders, with him taking up space in the low circles before firing one-time shots, often beating the goaltender on the short side. As seen below, he takes various shots, but InStat shows his most beneficial area comes on quick releases or cutting into the net.
Meanwhile, Hawel, the Dallas Stars’ 101st overall pick from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, has played minor league games for the Montreal Canadiens affiliate in Laval while also enjoying training camp stints with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“He’s been a special talent since he joined U SPORTS, and he’s proven that he can score goals at a high rate,” MacDougall said of Hawel, who’s scored 12 goals and 29 points to lead the AUS this season. “He’s electric on the powerplay, and he scored big goals.”
Outside of professional, junior and university hockey, Hawel represented Canada at the IIHF U18 World Championships in 2017.
While the high-flying former OHLers stand out, there’s also UQTR’s Simon Lafrance, who started this season strong, after scoring the overtime-winning goal to crown the Patriotes U CUP Champions in Wolfville in 2022.
Also joining the roster is a second Dallas Stars draft pick, with Manitoba’s Brett Davis making his way to Lake Placid 2023. Like Hawel, he played five AHL games with the Winnipeg Jets affiliate, Manitoba Moose, before thriving at the U SPORTS level.
The 163rd pick from the same 2017 NHL Draft, Davis has 10 goals and 27 points with the Manitoba Bisons this season, the highest among any Canada West forwards on the roster.
With 25 points this season, LaFrance will likely play down the middle of the ice, potentially centring a second or third line with Hawel taking the top-line duties. As well he’s averaged over 17:00 a night for UQTR this season, making him used to thriving in a non-exhaustive amount of time.
There is a lot to like in Canada’s lineup as you go down the roster as well, particularly with the UNB Reds talent that will be familiar with MacDougall’s systems. Austen Keating could see time at centre or push to the left wing, while Brady Gilmour is likely to take up a depth role and penalty-killing spot.
Other scoring threats include former AHL forward Matthew Struthers of StFX and Queen’s Jonathan Yantsis. Meanwhile, Team Canada will look to SMU’s Andrew Coxhead to win faceoffs as he brings his U SPORTS-leading 307 faceoff wins to the national stage. Craven, SK native and Saskatchewan Huskies forward Jared Dmyrtiw will also be called upon as a defesivly responsible faceoff taker.
“Coming from small town Saskatchewan, all you do is play hockey, especially [in December] when you’re watching the World Juniors growing up with Team Canada, so to get an opportunity to represent your country is really special,” said Dmyrtiw, who buoyed the WHL’s Vancouver Giants to the WHL final in his last year of junior.
Dmytriw comes into the Games with a 57% faceoff success rate while averaging over two blocked shots a game.
Rounding off the Canadian forward group are the versatile players of Concordia’s Tyler Hylland, UPEI’s TJ Shea and UQTR’s Zachary Lavigne, all of whom can impact the game in moments.
While Canada’s forward group doesn’t have any Alberta Golden Bears or MRU Cougars, both barred their players from attending the Games, it still features electrifying talent that will look to lead Canada to the top of the podium.
Canada’s dynamic defence core
While Team Canada’s forwards veer more towards simply outsourcing opponents, Canada’s defence is versatile in every way.
Calgary Dinos second-year Noah King will hold down the defensive side of things, bringing his experience of winning the 2019 WHL Championship with Swift Current while also adding a physical edge with an average of nearly three hits per game.
As well, the AUS trio of UPEI’s Matt Brassard, SMU’s Justin MacPherson and UNB’s Adam McCormick will be relied upon.
Brassard, a former Vancouver Canucks prospect, comes into the Lake Placid Games as a sizeable intelligent defenceman who can supply forwards in transition and make clean breakout passes. This season, he leads U SPORTS defenceman in scoring with 26 points and has thrived at winning the puck in the corner before making an initial zone exit pass.
With that skillset, as can be seen in the chart below through his last five UPEI games, Brassard should allow Canada to take advantage of their counter-attacking speed on the wings while also staying defensively solid.
Meanwhile, SMU’s Justin MacPherson is a smooth skating defenceman who was highly sought after during his recruiting process, having gone over to play professionally in Slovakia in the COVID-cancelled 2020-21 OHL season.
The left-handed defenseman made the U SPORTS second-team All-Stars as a rookie and also made the U SPORTS all-rookie team, scoring 21 points in 23 games in a down year for the SMU Huskies. This year, he’s helped SMU concede the third least goals in the AUS while keeping his scoring pace with 19 points in 20 games.
He also comes into the tournament with national experience, playing for Team Canada White at the U17 Hockey Challenge in 2017.
With Andrew McCormick, Team Canada gets familiarity as the Woodstock, NB native, comes into the Ganes knowing MacDougall’s systems and his role within them. Playing over 21 minutes a night with the UNB Reds, expect him to carry much of the load for Canada.
The Canadian defence also features a trio of OUA athletes, with Scott Walford of the McGill Redbirds, Justin Bergon of the UQTR Patriotes and Queen’s Gaels Jacob Paquette.
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The top-scoring defenceman in the OUA, Walford took on a significant role with the Redbirds in 2022, leading them to within a game of the U CUP. Before that, he starred with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and Victoria Royals, where he was also an assistant captain.
Bergeron was critical in UQTR’s run to the 2022 Queen’s Cup and U CUP and is extremely aware breaking out of his team’s zone. At the same time, Paquette, a 2017 NHL Draft Pick of the Nashville Predators, brings international experience from the U17 Hockey Challenge in 2016.
Canada’s defence is diverse in what they can offer and will look to be able to adapt to different game situations as they come their way, as they look to make their team the stingiest in the tournament.
Edmonds presumed starter for Canada
TMU Bold rookie Kai Edmonds burst onto the U SPORTS scene this year after a season of playing professionally, including a stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, Toronto Marlies.
He’s lifted a Bold team that has consistently ranked within the top of the OUA for several seasons and has U CUP aspirations. In just his first half of OUA hockey, the 22-year-old netminder has a .928 save percentage through 14 games, leading TMU to the top of the OUA standings.
The Ottawa-born netminder has a strong presence in front of goal and shifts well from side to side, while also coming out of his net and cutting down chances from in close. While he’s conceded goals in nearly every part of the net this season, the charts below prove that Edmonds is comfortable with shots from the faceoff dots, as well as in the slot.
However, although he’s the hottest of the three goaltenders Canada has at the Games, he will be challenged by a pair of Huskies SMU’s Matt Welsh and Saskatchewan’s Roddy Ross.
Welsh has been a consistent goalie for SMU and is riding a U SPORTS career-high .903 save percentage through 13 games this season, helping SMU bounce back into a playoff contender, sitting third in the AUS.
The native of Halifax, NS also has experience wearing the maple leaf, playing a pair of games with Team Canada White at the 2016 U17 Hockey Challenge. There, he was teammates with FISU teammates Austen Keating and Matt Struthers.
From Canada West, 2019 Philadelphia Flyers NHL Draft Pick, Roddy Ross started out on a tear for Saskatchewan, but his form has dropped since, as he enters the tournament with a .895 save percentage. On Jan. 6 vs the TWU Spartans, the Meadow Lake, SK native allowed three goals on nine shots before being pulled.
Mission Gold on Miracle Ice
Without Russia at the Lake Placid 2023 Games, Canada’s odds for men’s and women’s hockey gold went up exponentially. With current KHL players out of the way, Canada’s talent is near unparalleled at the FISU Games 2023.
Led by head coach Gardiner MacDougall, GM Mark Howell and assistant coaches Clarke Singer (Western), Patrick Grandmaître (Ottawa), and Brett Gibson (Queen’s). Ryan Medel (Toronto), Canada only has a gold medal in mind.
While Canada winning a gold medal in hockey is anything but a “Miracle on Ice,” Canada will have to navigate the famous 1980 rink if they want to top the podium, with this men’s hockey team hoping to join the likes of Team USA’s Miracle on Ice squad in the lore of Herb Brooks Arena.
“It’s an honour to put on the jersey and represent Canada, represent my country, and my family,” Bollers said.
“I’m really excited, and there are some nerves, but I can’t even describe how excited I am.”