Nelson, BC - When Evan Zych (pronounced ZICK) and Michael Budd lace up on game day for Canada East at the 2007 World Junior A Challenge, it’s like old times. Literally.
Zych and Budd are minor hockey buddies, dating back to Atom hockey and their time playing with the Burlington Eagles – and this week, they are lining up against Russia, Germany, Belarus and USA at the World Junior A Challenge.
A far cry from minor hockey games against local rivals such as the Ancaster Flyers and the Milton Winterhawks.
“I checked the roster the day it was announced, I was checking for players that play in my division,” said Zych, an offensive defenceman with the OPJHL’s Georgetown Raiders. “I didn’t expect to see someone that I was good friends with. As soon as I saw his name, I was just ‘wow, this is incredible for both us’. Two guys who played minor hockey together getting to put the Team Canada jersey on. It’s just the ultimate.”
The two OPJHL rivals are getting another chance to line up on the same side this week in Trail and Nelson, BC. Budd, a high-scoring forward with the Burlington Cougars, was just as excited when the roster was announced.
“As soon as the roster was named, I was so happy for him. Getting to play on the same team again. It’s just unbelievable for two guys who played together when we were young. And we hung out together all the time off the ice too.”
Budd was born in Montclair, New Jersey but arrived in Burlington at the age of ten and found his way onto the Burlington Eagles squad, where one of his new teammates was Zych, a native of Kilbride, Ontario. They would play together right through minor midget.
BACK IN TOURNAMENT MODE AGAIN
The stage is certainly quite different at the World Junior A Challenge, but it brings the two friends back in tournament mode, just like the ones that they played in back in minor hockey.
“The Golden Horseshoe Tournament in Burlington was a big tournament in our area,” noted Zych. “In the hotel ... hanging out with your buddies ... exactly the same thing here. Guys playing pranks on each other and that. It’s like you’re 12 years old again”
“It’s a lot more serious here obviously,” added Budd. “You can’t be fooling around as much. But we do have a lot of fun.”
Back as teammates, they have had some moments to remember, moments that remind them of their humble beginnings.
“When we were playing the Russians (in an exhibition game) and Mike scored the first goal, he went down the wing and went short side. I had to look twice,” said Zych. “Is that Mike that just scored a goal against the Russians? In a packed house? In a Team Canada jersey? It was kind of surreal.”
Budd has his own moment that brought him back in time. “We haven’t played with each other for a couple years so whenever I hear on the bench ‘Zych, you’re up’, it was really neat. It’s great to be playing together again.”
Budd, Zych and their Canada East teammates are back in action on Wednesday day, in a battle for first place in Group B, as they face the U.S.
NOTE – Both players mentioned Jeff Lyons as a minor hockey who had a big impact on both of them.
Evan Zych: “He coached us for pretty much all those years in minor (hockey) and taught us everything we know. The basics, the fundamentals. Mike and I know what he did for us. We can’t deny the impact that he has had on us.”
Michael Budd: “He (Jeff Lyons) really picked on me. He pushed me and always thought that I could do better. And he was right. .. If he hadn’t given me as much attention, I don’t know if I would have pushed myself as hard. He definitely made a huge difference.”