Penticton Vees forward Steen Cooper knows exactly what his four teammates will experience at the World Junior A Challenge.
“That’s something you dream of as a kid,” said Cooper of throwing the Canadian jersey over your head, which Jost and Fabbro will do for a second time after playing in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, while Bast does it for the first time. “Representing your country, especially to do it with three of your close buddies, they will make memories that will last a lifetime. They should have an awesome time.”
The fabulous four were chosen for the 22-player roster, announced Wednesday by Hockey Canada, that will compete for gold Dec. 14 to 20 at the West Central Events Centre in Kindersley, Sask.
“It’s pretty impressive,” said Cooper. “To have four guys to be selected off one team to a team that’s made up of the best players in western Canada is pretty impressive.”
The only other junior A club to accomplish what the Vees, ranked third in Canada, achieved is the fifth-ranked Aurora Tigers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Cooper said he cherished the chance to play against guys overseas including Switzerland twice and Russia. He said it was a good break from the BCHL schedule that has rivals facing each other several times.
“Moving forward, a lot of the guys from that tournament will most likely play in the NHL,” said Cooper. “To look back one day and say you competed against those guys is something pretty special.”
Former players from the tournament now in the NHL include former Vee Beau Bennett, Joe Colborne, Riley Nash, West Kelowna’s Justin Schultz and Kyle Turris just to name a few.
“For the younger guys, it’s playing against an even higher calibre of what they are playing against now,” he added. “It makes you an even better player.”
“It’s a great experience for them,” said Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson, who anticipated losing five players.
The only player not to make the cut is Miles Gendron, an Ottawa Senators draft pick.
“Unfortunately for Miles, they went in a different direction,” said Harbinson. “He had been playing outstanding the last month.”
While Gendron is disappointed to not make it, he said it was a great experience.
“I thought I played pretty well,” he said. “I enjoyed it. I had fun.”
The roster was chosen by Canada West head coach Trent Cassan (Yorkton, SJHL) along with assistant coaches Marc Berry (Dauphin, MJHL), Tim Fragle (Sherwood Park, AJHL) and Luke Pierce (Merritt, BCHL), and director of hockey operations Andrew Boutilier following a three-day selection camp in Calgary. The players come from the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s five western junior A circuits as far as Manitoba. Spruce Grove had the second most players chosen with three.
“There were no easy decisions for us coming out of selection camp; these 22 young men earned their spots on the Canada West roster,” said Cassan in a press release. “We’re excited to get on the road for Kindersley today and continue the proud tradition Canada West has created at the World Junior A Challenge.”
The Vees have already made calls to fill holes as they play their final game Dec. 20 before the Christmas break. Harbinson has signed 20-year-old defenceman Shayne Gwinner of Drumheller, Alta. Last season he played 31 games for his hometown Dragons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League scoring twice and adding 21 assists. He also has experience in the Western Hockey League. Gwinner will wear #24 when he debuts with the Vees Friday in Salmon Arm. Up front, the Vees have Okanagan Rockets forward Sam Binfet playing Friday. Binfet has nine goals and 19 points in 22 games.
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