Winning gold at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge was surreal for Griffin Mendel.
The Penticton Vees rookie defenceman did his part to help Canada White defeat Russia 6-2 in Dawson Creek, B.C. on Nov. 7.
“Everybody just bought in and played their role,” said Mendel, whose team won one of three games in its preliminary schedule.
Canada White trailed 2-1 after the first period, then scored five unanswered goals in the final two periods, including three in the second. Gabe Vilardi scored the winner. Mendel played in all six games and his lone point came when he assisted on the winning goal to defeat Sweden 2-1 in the semifinal. Mendel said the pace was fast and that some teams played with a physical edge.
What Mendel’s coach Scott Walker asked of him was simple.
“Just make hard, simple plays. Compete and block shots,” said Mendel, while teammate Scott Conway walked past and yelled at him, “No.1 baby, whoa!”
“All the teams were really good. Russia was good in the gold medal game. Sweden was a very good team.”
The 16-year-old rookie enjoyed being part of the Canada/Russia rivalry, which reminded him of the rematch of the 2015 World Junior Championship.
“It was pretty heads up for us,” he said. “It was pretty exciting.”
As the players began celebrating, the only thing going through Mendel’s mind was that they did it. They trailed 2-1 against Finland before scoring three third-period goals to win. Against Sweden, all their goals came in the third period as they trailed 1-0. It’s a special feeling for Mendel to capture gold because of the great players who have done it before him.
The Kelowna product had his parents were in the stands, while family watched on TV. He also already has plans for his medal.
“I kind of want to frame my jersey and my medal,” said Mendel, who received several congrats from his Vees teammates.
What he gained from the championship experience is the mentality and mindset needed to win.