Playing for Canada West is among Denver Manderson’s fondest moments in hockey.
“It was the first and likely only way I could represent Canada in international play and that is special,” said the former Penticton Vees captain in an e-mail from Finland, where’s he’s beginning his professional career this season.
Manderson is among eight Vees players who have competed in the World Junior A Challenge, which pits the world’s best Junior A players against each other in a six-team tournament.
Since the tournament’s inception in 2006, Canada West has yet to miss a gold medal game, winning two gold and two silver medals. Manderson, with teammate Curtis McKenzie, earned silver in 2008, losing to the Americans 7-1 in the final.
“He was an important piece as he was a forward who drove the offence for our team,” said Canada West head scout Leonard Strandberg of Manderson. “I looked at him the year before. He is a strong kid and had an inner determination.”
In 2006, Deron Cousens registered two goals and seven points in four games and earned a berth on the tournament all-star team, as did Zac Dalpe in 2007, when he tallied five goals (four on the power play) and seven points in five games. He also potted a hat trick, including the gold-medal-winning goal, in the final. In 2009, goalie Sean Bonar took home tournament MVP honours by going 3-2-0, with a .925 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average, and was joined by Vees teammate Joey Laleggia.
Other Vees important to Canada West were Brett Hextall and Trevor Nill, who helped Canada West clinch gold in 2007.
Manderson believes Canada West management has come knocking on the Vees’ door for players because of the top-end talent the BCHL team recruits and develops.
“I don't think many Junior A programs watch as much video, work out, practice and prepare like Penticton does,” said Manderson, who helped the Vees win their first BCHL championship in 22 years in 2008. “Their players are all very focused on getting to the next level and are coached well. In an event like the World Junior A Challenge, you need well-coached, prepared players because you only have a few days to get ready.”
Pegged to start the tournament behind Quesnel Millionaires goalie Kirby Halcrow, Bonar was given the first start last year in Summerside and never relinquished the job.
“He was just incredible,” said Strandberg of Bonar. “He was lights out as evidenced by the fact he didn’t give up the starter’s role.”
Rylan Ferster, Canada West’s general manager in 2010 and its head coach one year ago, said the reason Penticton has contributed as it has comes down to the strength of the Vees program.
“They have got one of the flagship franchises certainly in the BCHL,” said Ferster. “Credit certainly has to go to their staff right from when Bruno Campese was there (in 2006), and Bruno handed over those reigns to Fred Harbinson. That program hasn’t missed a beat.”
For the 2010 tournament, which Penticton hosts, the Vees could have as many as five players in red and white. Laleggia, 2009 Canada West member Brendan O’Donnell. Garrett Milan, Joel Rumpel and Mark MacMillan all earned invites to the September evaluation camp.
With Laleggia, Strandberg described him as being slick and having the ability to see the ice well and move the puck.
“He is a great player,” said Strandberg of Laleggia, who collected four assists last year.
The Vees second-year defenceman said representing Canada West was an experience of a lifetime for him.
“Being able to wear the Canada jersey for the first time, a lot of people don’t get to wear it once,” said Laleggia. “I got that opportunity and now I get this opportunity to hopefully wear it a second time. It is just something I will never forget. Right now it goes down as my greatest hockey moment ever.”