Canada West’s drive towards regaining the World Junior A Challenge gold medal begins against Russia on Sunday.
The opening game of the six-country 2009 event for players 19 and under at Credit Union Place is set for 2 p.m.
“It should be exciting,” said Canada West forward Tanner Fritz. “They are a fun team to play.
“Last year, there were some shenanigans at the end of the game, so I’m looking forward to playing them. They are a fast, physical team, and that’s what Canada players like to play.”
Canada East, Belarus, United States and Sweden round out the six teams that are divided into two three-team pools for round-robin play.
“You want to get off to that good start,” said Canada West head coach Rylan Ferster, who coaches Salmon Arm in the British Columbia Hockey League. “It’s such a short tournament by game standards and the teams are all good here.
“You really can’t afford to have two or three bad shifts or a bad game and say, ‘We’ll get ‘em tomorrow.’
“Each team has put together the best team they feel possible from their region, and you have to expect and demand things from yourself early on.”
Fritz, the only returnee on Canada West, understands there is little room for error.
“If you lose one game that could jeopardize a chance to win a gold medal and that’s everyone’s dream here to win a gold medal,” said Fritz, who plays with the Grande Prairie Storm of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“Certainly, we want to be a hard-working team, a team that’s eager to sacrifice for each other and willing to go to those dirty areas and pay prices to score goals and block shots,” said Ferster.
After defeating Canada East in the 20 gold medal games, Canada West lost 7-1 to the United States in last year’s final in Camrose, Alta.
“Last year, we didn’t really come together as a team and everyone was not really comfortable with each other,” said Fritz. “I can bring that forward to the team and the more comfortable you are, the better you are going to play.”
Ferster, who was an assistant coach with Canada West last year, has emphasized team-building exercises.
“The key with any system, or any team, if the five guys on the ice are playing one system, chances are you’re going to have a little bit of success,” said Ferster. “That’s one of the real goals here to try and get guys on the same page.”
Ferster is looking for Canada West to play well in both ends of the rink.
“I know when we were looking at putting this team together, we wanted complete players,” he said. “Complete players who were team players and were leaders on their own team.”
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