Canada looking forward to Lake Placid’s golden opportunity after Lucerne, U CUP heartbreak.

CANTON, NEW YORK – When COVID stormed through the world and forced the cancellation of the Lucerne 2021 World University Games, Canada was getting already ready. 

The men’s hockey team roster had participated in  Zoom video sessions, looking at how they could hit the ground running when they got to Switzerland. Yet, it’s 13 months later in Lake Placid that they’re finally getting the chance to strive for a medal. 

Five players from the 2021 roster feature on the 2023 team, a squad that has come together incredibly quickly.

“We’re gelling really well as a group, and everyone has put their pride and egos aside, and we’re working as a team and playing the Canadian way,” forward Brady Gilmour told 49 Sports. “It’s an opportunity not many of us have had.”

(Photo by Maddie Crooke/FISU Games)

Although Canada breezed through the group stage to top Group A on the back of wins over Ukraine, Latvia, Japan and Czechia, they’ve kept their goals, improving on each game, rolling into the medal rounds with a hard-fought win over Czechia, where Kai Edmonds secured a second straight shutout. 

Now, Canada looks on to a semi-final against Kazakhstan at 1:00 pm ET, with the winner of that game facing Team USA or Team Japan from the other semi-final.

The Canadian team, consisting of the best from across U SPORTS, only met 11 days ago in Ottawa. Forcing them to gel quickly with unfamiliar linemates and coaching staff has proven a unique challenge, yet, as they danced to Shakira and Pitbull in the locker room after clinching top of the group, it’s clear the team is incredibly close — all in less than two weeks. 

“This is the closest group that has come together so fast that I’ve seen before; it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the OUA, CanWest or the AUS, we came together; everyone came along for a common goal,” UNB’s Austen Keating said. “Everyone knew the skill we had in the team, and it’s all about the work ethic; it started in practice, and we’ve been getting better every day.”

While they first met as Team Canada in the nation’s capital, a few had gotten to play together a couple of weeks prior against Canada’s men’s World Junior Hockey Team, further pushing on Canada’s FISU development ahead of the Games.

“Some of the AUS guys got to play together for the games against the World Junior team,” head coach Gardiner MacDougal says. “They’ve been bought in right from day one. It’s a tremendous group of people who are also very good hockey players.”

Yet, now, as they head south to Lake Placid from their group stage base in Canton, they get to opportunity to play at the historic Herb Brooks Arena and a chance to play in some of the biggest games of their careers to this point. However, with a group that hasn’t experienced much international hockey, experience from junior and significant U SPORTS Games will bear fruitful. 

“Every guy in that room has played in big games before, so we’re going to lean on each other to be successful, and  Saturday will be a big test for us,” Keating said. “We’ll be leaning on each other.”

With players coming from around junior hockey and U SPORTS, there’s a variety of experiences. There’s the rookie season for Edmonds in goal, Davis’ outstanding season with a middling Mantioba team and of course, a sizeable UNB reds contingent from one of the most successful schools in Canadian university hockey. 

Big knockout games after swift seasons are no stranger for Keating, Gilmour, McCormick and head coach Gardiner McDougall. Playing with UNB, the four have experienced the likes of 10-0 wins in the regular season before having to instantly step up their play in the knockout rounds

(Photo by Maddie Crooke/FISU Games)

In some ways, approaching the medal rounds with Team Canada and UNB playoff experiences are similar. From straightforward and testing to moments where a slip-up can’t be had. 

The last time the UNB players left the ice of a knockout game, it wasn’t with a trophy. Instead, a loss to FISU teammate Kyle Bollers and the TMU Bold. While the result wasn’t what they imagined, it’s allowed them to grow into this season and Canada’s search for gold. 

“Every game is a learning lesson; whether you win or lose, you’re going to learn from it; that [TMU] game didn’t go how we planned, but I learned from it,” Keating said. “Brady and Adam learned from it, so going into these big games, we’ll be prepared and lean on guys who have won championships in the past.”

TMU went up early in that game with a first-period goal, and for the rest of the game, UNB played on a knife edge, attacking but holding back, seemingly shaken in their comfortable, fast and gritty playing style. 

“We panicked more than we wanted to,” Gilmour said. “If that situation comes to us in the next few days, I think we’ll be more prepared for it, but it’s a different group of guys, so it’s a bit different.”

With those lessons in the back pocket of the UNB players and a challenging final group game tune-up test against a Czechia team that won’t advance, Team Canada is raring and ready for the finals. 

(Photo by Greg Kie/FISU Games)

For MacDougall, however, there’s been a plan to improve every game, and that’s what he’s gotten from his Canadian group, similar to what he did when he joined the Saint John Sea Dogs for the 2022 Memorial Cup tournament and led them to a CHL championship at home. 

Now, however, as the coach of Bedque, PEI takes the perch of the late American coach Herb Brooks; he’s not hoping for a miracle but swift improvement and maybe a little bit of help from  his team’s momentum, or as he calls it, “Lady Mo.”

“Hopefully, she’s around us,” he said of his team riding a five-game win streak into the medal rounds. “This is  a tremendous group of people who are also very good hockey players.

Leave a Reply