Victoria Royals defencemen Joe Hicketts and Ryan Gagnon and Edmonton Oil Kings rearguard Dysin Mayo, a Victoria native, all flew out on Boxing Day for the international 10-team tournament that features five regional Canadian teams (Pacific, West, Atlantic, Quebec and Ontario) as well as teams from Russia, Sweden, Slovakia, Finland and the United States.
Team Pacific, coached by Prince George Cougars assistant Jason Becker, will begin play Saturday against defending champion Russia. Team Pacific, made up of players from B.C. and Alberta, has finished second five times in the annual competition.
“Obviously, we want to win gold,” said Hicketts, the highly touted blueliner who will play a leadership role with the club. “Team Pacific has never done that. We’re going to have to come together as a team pretty quickly, in these short-term events that’s usually the key to winning. Becoming a team, play within the system and knowing your role on the team.”
Team Pacific began last year’s event with three straight wins, including a victory over Russia, before being tripped up and finishing fifth. Royals defenceman Keegan Kanzig played for Team Pacific in that event.
“Last year they had that tough go, losing just once and ended up fifth. The year before they won bronze, so we’re definitely looking to medal and I think we’re going in with the mindset of winning gold,” added Hicketts, who has studied the history of the event, which first began in 1986.
“It’s tough for Canadians, being divided into five teams, where the Americans and Russians and other international teams have just the one.”
Gagnon and Mayo, who have seen more limited roles with their respective Western Hockey League clubs, are also looking forward to the event.
“I’m pretty excited, this is going to be a great experience and a lot of fun, on top of it all,” said Gagnon. “I think I’ll be more excited to get playing more than anything, playing against some international teams.
“It would be sweet to win it all.”
And the opportunity will do wonders for all those participating.
“It’ll be a great experience. Usually what you see with guys at Christmas time, when they get an opportunity to play in these tournaments and within their peer group, is they usually come back with more confidence and you see an upward trend in their game moving forward,” said Royals’ head coach Dave Lowry.
“For Joe, he’s been a heavier, more relied upon guy for us, so it’s even more important for Ryan to go and just enjoy playing the game,” added Lowry. “He knows when he comes back he’s going to get an opportunity to play, moving forward.”
To date, Hicketts has one goal and eight assists in 33 games with the Royals while Gagnon has one assist and 11 penalty minutes in 17 outings. Mayo, a six-foot, 173-pound defenceman with a veteran-laden Oil Kings blueline, has one assist and 10 penalty minutes in 27 games in Edmonton.
“This is an important tournament for Canada’s young, up-and-coming players, as it is their first opportunity to impress scouts in best-on-best competition,” said Kevin Prendergast, head scout for Hockey Canada. “Hockey fans in Quebec can expect the cream of the crop from this age group.”
Since the first World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (previously known as the Quebec Esso Cup), more than 1,200 NHL draft picks have played in the event, including nine of the last 12 first-overall selections — Ilya Kovalchuk, 2001; Rick Nash, 2002; Marc Andre Fleury, 2003; Alexander Ovechkin, 2004; Erik Johnson, 2006; Patrick Kane, 2007; John Tavares, 2009; Taylor Hall, 2010; and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 2011.
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