HockeyCanada.ca takes a closer look at some of the players comprising Team Canada East.
BRYAN GILLIS - MJAHL
Last season at this time, Bryan Gillis would have traded his yellow Bulldog crested jersey for the Team Canada crested jersey.
This season Gillis has slid that Team Canada jersey over head and is the man between the pipes for Team East at the 2007 World Junior A Challenge in Trail and Nelson, B.C.
“I kinda dreamed of playing in it because I followed it last year, and once I found out I made it, it was really cool,” said the nineteen year old puckstopper.
Gillis was named the number one goaltender after splitting time with teammate Kori Coelho (OPJHL, Couchiching) in the two exhibition games prior to the WJAC.
Team East and Gillis split their two preliminary games. A won over Belarus 4-1 in the opener and a 3-2 loss to Team USA 3-2 on Wednesday set up a quarterfinal game versus Team Germany Thursday night. Team East was able to rally and score three goals in the third period to get the win.
When asked about the hockey experience with three games between the pipes at the WJAC, Gillis said, “It’s more than I thought it would be like, it’s fun but at the same time I’m really nervous.”
Gillis says the cause of the butterflies are the intense level of hockey and his enormous desire to win.
“The whole way you approach games when you play for your country is a bit different,” said the Lantz, NS homegrown boy.
The adjustment as a team and having 22 of the best players from different league come together has seemed quite easy according to Gillis.
“We’ve gelled pretty fast,” said the six-foot goaltender.
Team East has taken part in a couple different activities that has helped the transition, but Gillis singled out the visit to Rosemount Elementary school in Nelson, BC as the best one.
“It was cool to see there eyes light up when you talk to them with the Canada jersey on,” said Gillis.
Gillis says it has been great how the community of Nelson has supported his team. The show of support has come from the large crowds filling the arena and cheering. But Gillis is very impressed by the creative posters given to the team by the elementary kids. The posters are taped to the wall just outside the dressing room in the Nelson and District Community Complex.
ADAM BRACE - CJHL
For young men who continue their hockey careers at a high level into their late teens and early twenties, the opportunity to wear the Team Canada crest is a special one.
Adam Brace of the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the CJHL, who had never played against international competition before, hopes to represent his league and his country well this week at the World Junior A Challenge.
“Once you throw the Canada jersey on, it is easy to play,” said the Team East forward.
Brace says the transition made by the 22 individuals to becoming one team over the last five days has been pretty easy because of their common objective.
“We’ve gelled well together in the little time we’ve known each other,” said the 19-year-old.
Brace attributes the team’s cohesiveness to the coaching staff of (Jerome) Dupont, (Troy) Ryan, and (Mark) Grady. The coaching staff created activities to help the team members get to know each other and have some fun.
Brace talked about the team photo scavenger hunt around the city of Nelson.
“It was good fun,” said Brace.
The team was divided into groups of five or six, and tasked with collecting a list of pictures of specific things in and around Nelson. This also got the people of Nelson involved and gave them the opportunity to meet the Canada East players.
That has helped with the support of the team. The Nelson and District Community Complex has played host to near capacity crowds for Canada East’s games at the WJAC.
“It’s nice to see all the fans at the game and support us,” said Brace.
Team East also gained a lot of support when they visited Rosemount Elementary School and about 150 kids from grades one to six.
“It was nice to be noticed because I remember when I was that young, if anyone came, especially a Team Canada player, it was a big deal,” said Brace.
CHRIS KANGAS - NOJHL
When the time came for the Team East player selections, Chris Kangas was anticipating a call.
Kangas followed in the footsteps of his teammate Scott Levigne, who played in the 2006 World Junior A Challenge. Levigne returned to tell of the great experience at the event and Kangas grew more anxious to be a part of the challenge.
“I knew it was coming up and once I got the call, I was pretty excited to go,” said Kangas.
When the call came two weeks prior to the WJAC, Kangas knew he would be a part of something of a special experience. The experience comes in the form of playing at a new level of hockey.
“I find it to be really tight hockey, not much room to skate. You really have to work for the ice you get,” said the Team East forward.
The competition may be tight to play against, but so is the team, says Kangas. Team East has been active with team bonding to help make the transition to a new situation for these hockey players.
“We’re a big family here,” said Kangas.
The family is an extended one with Team East gaining the support of the community of Nelson and its’ hockey fans.
The team took a special trip to Rosemount Elementary school to visit some local grade one to six students.
Kangas said it was like being a celebrity for the day and recalled his days as a young Sudbury Wolves fan and how he was in awe of those hockey players when he was younger.
If it was possible to garner any more support for the community, the time spent with the local kids seemed to accomplish that.
“It’s great to have. It’s feels like being in your hometown, everybody here is cheering for Team Canada
East because they see us around town,” said the 18 year-old.
“We’re in the west but it’s not like that. It’s like we’re home.”
BRANDAN BURLON - OPHJL
One year ago, Brandon Burlon heard first hand about the World Junior A Challenge and knew he wanted to be a part of the experience the next year.
Burlon’s teammates Brendan Smith and Louie Caporusso from St. Michael’s played for Team East in the 2006 WJAC. Smith and Caporusso were raving about the hockey and experience, says Burlon.
“Once I found out (that I was going to be part of it), I was pretty ecstatic,” said Burlon.
Burlon knows now that his former teammates’ glowing review of the WJAC did not lead him astray. The caliber of hockey and the skill level of the players have been everything Burlon expected and more.
“Playing with guys that are as high caliber as you, everyone is fighting for that position, playing for that ice-time they want, getting that exposure they really want, being the best player on the team,” said the 17 year-old.
Burlon has thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing against different hockey teams and different styles of hockey. Bulron remembers his first experience playing against an international team when he was thirteen. His Richmond Hill PeeWee Stars faced off against a Russian team.
“It’s kinda neat seeing the different styles and playing against them,” said the Team East defenceman.
Burlon and his teammates have not only had to adjust to the different styles of the teams that they are playing, but to each other. The team is made of 22 players from five divisions in the CJAHL. The transition has been very smooth, according to Burlon. Burlon credits the innovative activity of a photo scavenger hunt that the Team East coaching staff organized.
“Being out with the boys, going out on a limb, it brought our guard down and made us feel really comfortable with each other,” said Burlon.
That comfort also helped the players mingle and meet with locals, while out for this team bonding activity. And in turn the people of Nelson gave its’ full support to the team and the event.
“The town has really grown to love us,” said Burlon.
The full fledged adoption of the team has been an advantage for Team East, Burlon feels.
“It means a lot. We’re coming out here, which is somewhat foreign to us, but knowing that we got all the fans behind us and they are rooting for us, it really helps us a lot,” said the Nobleton, Ontario native.
ALEXANDRE FOURNIER - LHJAAAQ
Alexandre Fournier was surprised to find out he would be wearing the maple leaf for Team East at the 2007 World Junior A Challenge.
Fournier was at a training camp for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL, when he found he would be playing in Trail and Nelson, B.C.
“It was a very big surprise, it was just amazing, a very big surprise,” said Forunier stroking his buzz cut.
Forunier chose Granby over Shawinigan of the QMJHL for the pursuit of education route.
“My parents always say ‘I will do my life with school and not with the hockey,’ so my parents support my decision,” said the 17 year-old defenceman.
Fournier gets a lot of ice-time for his Junior A team, the Granby Inouks of the LHJAAAQ, which is a major reason for being named as one of the 22 members of Team East at the WJAC. Fournier had a bit of tough transition when he first arrived, but things have definitely got better.
“At the beginning it was tough now it is ok, we are winning and that is the important part,” said Fournier.
Fournier has become more comfortable and gained inspiration from the thousand or so fans that attend each game
“It’s kind of a boost, a lot of ‘rah-rah’ boosts me to play better,” said Fournier with a mock cheer of hand waving.
Fournier says that the crowd size and loud cheering in Nelson compares more than favorably with his hometown squad, Granby.