Hockey fans in Southwest will get a sneak peak at the top U17 hockey players in the world on Thursday with a pair of World U-17 Hockey Challenge pre-tournament games.
The Wickenheiser Centre in Shaunavon will host Canada Black against Finland, while the Innovation Credit Union iplex will have Canada White versus Russia at 7 p.m. as well.
Canada White’s Cole Sillinger will be considered the hometown boy in both Swift Current and Medicine Hat, where his team will be based out of in the round robin.
“It’s going to be something special,” said the Regina native, who is enjoying a fine rookie campaign with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League this season. “I’ll be familiar with both rinks, Swift Current and my home rink. It’s just something I’m looking forward to. It’s been good.”
Sillinger currently leads all Western Hockey League rookies with eight goals and 17 points in 14 games with the Tigers. He led the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League with 45 assists and 76 points in 39 games last season. He registered five assists in two games at the iplex last season with the Regina Pat Canadians.
“The guys have been asking what’s the rink like. They know I have some experience with it. Any rink, I think the guys are comfortable now with the rink, played in it twice already, so I think we’re ready to go.”
Canada White had its second practice together on Wednesday at the iplex. “We knew kind of what our team was going to look like in the summer camp there. I think we’re a really skilled team. We’re high energy and I think we’re a deep team also with really good coaching, so looking forward to seeing what the tournament has for us,” said Sillinger.
Sillinger said that despite the increased presence of NHL scouts and Hockey Canada brass, that he and his teammates would approach games just like a regular CHL contest.
“This is not a deciding factor for our careers, so I think we’ve just got to look at that and just enjoy the experience and enjoy it overall.”
Canada White is coached by Sylvain Favreau, who is an assistant coach with the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL. He thought his team was rounding into form on Wednesday as they prepared for their first pre-tournament game.
“For us coaches it’s a long process. We start this in June actually when we all met for our coaches seminar. Afterwards it’s on with the July Development Camp in Calgary. I would say 90 percent of our cluster at camp made our team. It’s been a long time coming to get here and now it’s to put two teams together into one as quickly as possible. Preparation is going well. Full days for the boys, but we’re certainly excited to get things going.”
He was hoping to foster a team-first atmosphere on Canada White.
“We’re a team that’s definitely going to be working hard. We’re trying to focus on every player’s abilities and elements that they bring to the team. Hockey Canada does a great job where we’re picking the 66 best players. So it’s not like we’re ghost rostering where we have a grinder on the fourth. We’ll have a skill guy on the fourth line, so it’s to balance that and to enable them to play to the maximum of their capabilities,” said Favreau.
The Canada White coach was looking forward to deploying Sillinger amongst his forward ranks.
“First and foremost what I’ve seen is how great of a kid he is off the ice. He is a natural leader. I got a chance to talk to Willie Desjardins, his coach, and nothing but great things to say about him. We’re looking for him to have a leadership presence because he is a natural leader. Just like anyone, we want him to play to the maximum of his capabilities, not play outside of his structure… We just want him to play to the maximum of his abilities. He has been playing well with older players, now he’ll have a chance to play with his own age group and I’m sure he’ll have success.”
The tournament gets underway on Saturday when Canada Red faces Russia at the iplex. Sillinger and Canada White will face Canada Black on Saturday evening in Medicine Hat.