PENTICTON, B.C. – They came from near and they came from far, but they came with one goal in mind: gold.
The 44 players who will represent Canada at the 2010 World Junior A Challenge arrived in Penticton on Tuesday, six days before the first puck drops at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
And despite having almost a week before playing a game that counts, both Canada East and Canada West didn’t waste any time getting down to business at their first practices on Tuesday night.
“I think our guys are still getting the feel for playing with each other, but that will come,” said Canada West head coach Larry Wintoneak. “It was a good chance to work on a few systems, and even though it took a few minutes for the boys to get going, I like what I see so far.”
While the westerners focused on a few specific areas of the game, for Canada East the first practice was simply a chance to get their legs after a long travel day.
“The guys were pretty jetlagged, so they just got out there and got a sweat on, which was pretty much what we wanted,” said Canada East head coach Todd Gill. “We showed them a few things we’ll be working on during the week, a few of the systems we’ll implement.”
Canada East forward Nick Huard, one of just two returning players from last year’s Canada East side, had the longest trip of any Canadian player – his team’s 8:30 p.m. PT practice began 20 hours after a 4:30 a.m. AT wake-up call at his Woodstock, N.B. home.
His day included a one-hour drive to Fredericton, N.B. for a 90-minute flight to Toronto, a five-hour flight from Toronto to Vancouver and an hour-long flight from Vancouver to Kelowna, B.C., followed by a one-hour bus ride into Penticton.
Despite the long day, and the four-hour time change, Huard said he felt okay stepping on the ice.
“We got the chance to hang out at the hotel for a bit and relax a little,” he said, “so the skate felt good.”
In the other dressing room, the shortest trip – apart from the three members of the hometown Penticton Vees – belonged to Westside Warriors sniper Grayson Downing, who said it was a little strange walking into the Vees dressing room.
“It was awkward, almost, walking into the room,” said the Abbotsford, B.C. native, who plays just 45 minutes up the road in West Kelowna. “There’s a good rivalry between Westside and Penticton, so it’s definitely a little weird playing on the same team as the three Vees guys.”
The Warriors-Vees rivalry isn’t the only one that will have to be set aside for the next two weeks – Sam Mellor and Travis St. Denis both play for the Trail Smoke Eaters, another Interior Conference rival of Penticton, and there are 11 players representing eight different Ontario Junior Hockey League teams on the Canada East roster – but players and coaches alike know that’s something that will need to be done if the ultimate goal is to be reached.
“It’s a short tournament, and it’s the teams that gel the quickest that are going to have success,” said Gill. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you play for; for one week, you’re playing for your country.”