12 Days of U17

12 – QMJHL Teams Represented On Quebec
 
Simply put, Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence would not be possible without the partnership of the Canadian Hockey League. Every season, CHL teams release their best and brightest during the holiday season to represent their country at the IIHF World Junior Championship and World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
 
This year, as the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge returns to Quebec, where it originated in 1986, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has no shortage of representation. Of the league’s 18 teams, 12 have at least one player on the Quebec roster, led by four from the Phoenix de Sherbrooke. The Tigres de Victoriaville have three representatives, followed by the Saguenéens de Chicoutimi and Foreurs de Val-d’Or with two players apiece, and the Drakkar de Baie-Comeau, Armada de Blainville-Boisbriand, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Olympiques de Gatineau, P.E.I. Rocket, Oceanic de Rimouski, Huskies de Rouyn-Noranda and Saint John Sea Dogs with one each.
 
Overall, 47 of the CHL’s 60 teams will have at least one player on the ice in Victoriaville and Drummondville – 14 from the QMJHL (Atlantic and Quebec), 16 from the Ontario Hockey League (Ontario) and 17 from the Western Hockey League (Pacific and West).

11 – First-Overall NHL Picks

The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is a coming-out party for young stars, the first chance to make an impression on the international scene, and often the first stop on the road to an NHL career. For a select few, it’s the first step towards hearing their name called as the first pick in the NHL Entry Draft.

In the 17 NHL drafts since 1996 – when most of this year’s competing players were born – 11 under-17 alumni have had that honour – Joe Thornton (1997), Vincent Lecavalier (1998), Ilya Kovalchuk (2001), Rick Nash (2002), Marc-André Fleury (2003), Alexander Ovechkin (2004), Erik Johnson (2006), Patrick Kane (2007), John Tavares (2009), Taylor Hall (2010) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011). Of that group, only Kovalchuk, Thornton and Hall pulled off the gold medal/first pick double; Kovalchuk won gold with Russia in 2000, while Thornton and Hall took home the top prize with Ontario in 1995 and 2008, respectively.

The only three top picks in the last 10 years not to make the list? Sidney Crosby (2005), who played with Canada’s National Junior Team as a 16-year-old in 2004, Steven Stamkos (2008), who won gold with Ontario at the 2007 Canada Winter Games, and Nail Yakupov (2012), who was on Russia’s preliminary roster for the 2010 tournament but didn’t make the trip to Timmins, Ont.

10 – International Entries

While the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge has long been an opportunity for Canadian hockey fans to see the future of their country’s game, the tournament is also the first chance for many international stars to make their first impression in the birthplace of the game.

At the first U17 event in 1986, while the attention was on Canadian up-and-comers like Turgeon, Shanahan and Sakic, the Soviet Union came to Quebec with a roster that included Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny and Dmitri Khristich, eventually taking home silver. Two years later, the tournament produced the first-ever European U17 alumnus to be selected first in the NHL draft, Sweden’s Mats Sundin.

In the 18 tournaments since 1986, 10 countries outside of Canada have stepped on the ice – the Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Germany, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, the Soviet Union, Sweden and the United States – with only four taking home gold – the Soviet Union (1988), Finland (1990), the United States (1994, 1998, 2006, 2008) and Russia (2000, 2012).

9 – National Junior Team Captains

While many of the players selected each year to Canada’s National Junior Team are leaders, there can only be one who wears the ‘C’ as captain when the first puck drops on Boxing Day to kick off the IIHF World Junior Championship.

In the last decade, including this year’s tournament, nine World Under-17 Hockey Challenge alumni have served as Canada’s captain – Dan Paille (2004), Michael Richards (2005), Karl Alzner (2007), Kris Letang (2008), Thomas Hickey (2009), Patrice Cormier (2010), Ryan Ellis (2011), Jaden Schwartz (2012) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who will captain Canada at the 2013 World Juniors in Ufa, Russia.

In all, 16 U17 alumni have been Canadian captains, with Eric Desjardins (1989), Dave Chyzowski (1990), Steve Rice (1991), Todd Harvey (1995), Brad Larsen (1997), Manny Malhotra (2000) and Scottie Upshall (2003) joining the above list of names. In the first 15 years, Canada has won 14 World Junior medals – eight gold, four silver and two bronze.

8 – Saskatoon Contacts

Ask any coach, and they’ll tell you the biggest key to success in a short-term tournament is chemistry, ensuring their players come together as one; that shouldn’t be a problem for West at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenhe, its roster includes eight players that spent the 2011-12 season as teammates with the Saskatoon Contacts of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League.

Rourke Chartier, Reid Gardiner, Austin Glover, Vukie Mpofu, Nelson Nogier, Kolten Olynek, Rylan Parenteau and Josh Uhrich helped the Contacts win the SMAAAHL championship, claim the West Region title and earn a bronze medal at the 2012 TELUS Cup, Canada’s National Midget Championship, in Leduc, Alta.

In total, 12 players who were on the ice in Leduc will represent their regions at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – the eight Contacts are joined by Pacific’s Ty Mappin, who won gold with the Red Deer Rebels, and Brandon Hickey, a fourth-place finisher with the host Leduc Oil Kings, and Quebec’s Daniel Audette and Vincent Deslauriers, who helped the Phénix du Collège Esther-Blondin to a silver medal.

7 – Ontario Alumni At World Juniors

While the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is step one in Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence, the crown jewel is undoubtedly the IIHF World Junior Championship; every young player across the country dreams of wearing the Team Canada jersey at the holiday tradition that is the World Juniors.

This year, Canada’s National Junior Team roster includes alumni of all five of Canada’s regional under-17 teams, led by seven from Ontario. Jake Paterson helped the province to its eighth gold medal at the 2011 tournament in Winnipeg, Man., while Dougie Hamilton, Scott Harrington, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murphy, Brett Ritchie and Ryan Strome were part of Ontario’s silver medal-winning entry on home ice in Timmins, Ont., in 2010.

Overall, 19 of the 23 members of Canada’s National Junior Team played at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, including six from Pacific (McNeill, Nugent-Hopkins, Rattie, Reinhart, Rielly, Wotherspoon), four from Quebec (Danault, Drouin, Huberdeau, Ouellet) and one each from Atlantic (MacKinnon) and West (Lipon). Drouin and MacKinnon both accomplished the rare feat of participating in all three steps of the POE in a calendar year – after playing in last year’s U17 tournament, they helped Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team win gold at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament in August before being selected for the World Juniors as 17-year-olds.

6 – Toronto Marlboros

With the success the Toronto Marlboros have had at producing top-level prospects, it hasn’t become a question of if there will be Marlboros alumni on Ontario’s roster for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, it has become a question of how many.

When Ontario opens its tournament against the United States on Dec. 29, six products of the Marlboros program will be wearing red and white – Sam Bennett, Daniel De Sousa, Joah Ho-Sang, Jaden Lindo, Connor McDavid and Roland McKeown. The six helped the Marlboros to a runner-up finish at the 2012 OHL Cup, losing in overtime on the championship game to a Mississauga Rebels team that included Ontario teammates Damian Bourne, Dylan Di Perna, Robby Fabbri and Brett Hargrave.

The U17 sextet aren’t the only Marlboros alumni who are on Team Canada duty during the holiday season; Jake Paterson, Brett Ritchie, Ryan Strome and Malcolm Subban are on the Canadian roster for the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, while Sam Gagner, Jason Spezza and John Tavares will wear the maple leaf at the 2012 Spengler Cup.

5 – Canadian Teams
 
It has been 27 years since the first puck dropped at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and while the international entries have changed, one thing has remained constant – Canada has been represented by five regional teams.

The country’s best up-and-coming 16-year-olds have suited up for Atlantic (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island), Ontario, Pacific (Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon), Quebec and West (Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan), getting their first taste of international competition and first experience with Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence.

Since that first tournament 27 years ago, 20 gold medals have been awarded (including two in 1998), and Canadian teams have won 13 of them, a 65 per cent success rate. In all, only twice has a U17 gold medal game not featured a Canadian team (Sweden vs. Soviet Union in 1988; Russia vs. United States in 2012), and four times the final has been an all-Canadian match-up.

4 –Tigres De Victoriaville

One of the added benefits of the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – apart from the opportunity to wear the Team Canada jersey and play against the very best in international hockey – is the chance for players to travel across the country, to see how hockey affects Canadians in other cities and provinces.

But for three members of Team Quebec, Mathieu Ayotte, Tristan Pomerleau, and Félix-Antoine Savage, and one member of Team Atlantic, Lucas Batt, it’ll be a short trip to this year’s tournament. In fact, the four will rarely leave their home rink – they’re starring this season as 16-year-olds with the Tigres de Victoriaville; Ayotte was the 23rd overall pick by the Tigres in the 2012 QMJHL Entry Draft, while Batt went 37th, Savage 50th and Pomerleau 68th.

The Tigres are one of two CHL teams with four representatives at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, along with the Kingston Frontenacs (Sam Bennett, Dylan Di Perna, Roland McKeown and Spencer Watson). The four Tigres and Frontenacs are most players from a single CHL team to play at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge since a quartet of Moose Jaw Warriors – Connor Cox, Quinton Howden, Nathan MacMaster and Dylan McIlrath – helped Pacific and West reach the semifinals at the 2009 tournament in Port Alberni,  B.C.

3 – Hockey Hall Of Fame Inductees

Since the first puck dropped at the Quebec Esso Cup in 1986, the under-17 tournament has produced numerous world champions, Olympic gold medallists and Stanley Cup champions. But never before had a U17 alumnus been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame – until this year.

The Hall’s Class of 2012 included three players – Pavel Bure, Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin – who got their first taste of international competition at the under-17 level before embarking on careers that produced a combined 1,626 goals, 2,143 assists, 3,769 points, five IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medals, two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cups.

Sakic was the first to see under-17 action, helping Pacific to a bronze medal at the inaugural Quebec Esso Cup in 1986. Two years later, Bure and Sundin led their respective teams to a gold medal game showdown (won 4-3 by Bure and the Soviet Union), which was, prior to 2012’s Russia-United States match-up, the lone U17 final not to feature a Canadian team.

2 – 2013 Host Cities

The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is back in Quebec for the first time since Amos played host to the 1994 tournament, returning the event to the province where it originated in 1986 as the Quebec Esso Cup and putting a pair of QMJHL centres into the international spotlight.

Victoriaville, home of the Tigres since 1987, is no stranger to the under-17 tournament, having hosted games at the 1986, 1988 and 1990 events, when games were spread across Quebec, while Drummondville, where the Voltigeurs have called home since 1982, will welcome hockey’s future stars for the first time.

The 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge will truly be a joint venture, as both cities will host a semifinal and a medal game – the bronze medal will be awarded in Drummondville, while Victoriaville gets the nationally-televised gold medal game – and both will host 13 games at the 27-game event. The lone game not played at either the Colisée or Centre Marcel-Dionne? Ontario and Slovakia will meet Dec. 30 in Plessisville, located 25 minutes northeast of Victoriaville.

1 – Alumnus On The Event Logo

When Hockey Canada designers set about to introduce new domestic event logos in time for the 2007-08 season, they didn’t have to dig too deep into the archives to find the photo that would be part of the new World Under-17 Hockey Challenge logo – the player that adorns the U17 mark is none other than Angelo Esposito.

After getting released from Canada’s National Junior Team selection camp as a 16-year-old ahead of the 2006 IIHF World Junior Championship, Esposito joined Quebec at the U17 tournament in Regina, Sask., donned the ‘C’ and led the province to its first gold medal in 12 years, scoring three goals and adding an assist in six games.

Esposito, a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007, finally did crack Canada’s National Junior Team roster on his fourth try in 2009, scoring in the gold medal game as Canada won its fifth consecutive World Junior gold. After beginning his pro career in the AHL and ECHL, the Montreal native is spending this season with Pelicans Lathi of the Finnish SM-liiga.