It will be a reunion of sorts for six players when the future of hockey comes to Manitoba over the holiday season for the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie.
Shea Howorko (West), Slater Koekkoek (Ontario), Stefan Matteau (U.S.), Liam O’Brien (Atlantic), Morgan Rielly (Pacific) and Andrew Ryan (Atlantic) all helped the Notre Dame Hounds win a second-consecutive TELUS Cup as national Midget champions last April in Lévis, Que., and turn their attention now to winning U17 gold.
Shea Howorko (West), Slater Koekkoek (Ontario), Stefan Matteau (U.S.), Liam O'Brien (Atlantic), Morgan Rielly (Pacific) and Andrew Ryan (Atlantic) all helped the Notre Dame Hounds win a second-consecutive TELUS Cup as national Midget champions last April in Lévis, Que., and turn their attention now to winning U17 gold.
Rielly and Koekkoek, both of whom were top 10 picks in their respective Major Junior drafts – Rielly went second overall to Moose Jaw (WHL) in 2009, while Koekkoek was the seventh selection by Peterborough (OHL) in 2010 – spent the 2009-10 school year as roommates, but now will go head-to-head, not that it bothers Koekkoek.
"It'll be great to see each other out there," says the blue liner, who took home MVP and Top Defenceman honours from the TELUS Cup. "Obviously you can't be best friends on the ice, but it'll be fun. Morgan and I talk almost every day about our seasons and the tournament." 2011 marks the second year in a row the Hounds will be well-represented at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Last year, in Timmins, Ont., four players – Brent Benson (West), Zach Hodder (Pacific), Bryce Milson (Atlantic) and Justin Sefton (Ontario) – wore the maple leaf just months after leading Notre Dame to its first TELUS Cup championship since 1986.
With two TELUS Cup championships in a row and 10 players selected for the U17 tournament over the last two years, it's easy to see why Notre Dame is known across the country, and around the world, as a hockey factory.
The Wilcox, Sask., school has won provincial and national championships at all levels of minor, Junior A, and female hockey while producing players who gave gone on to success at all levels, from the NHL to the international game, players like Vincent Lecavalier, Wendel Clark, Brad Richards and Jordan Eberle. But the experience isn't limited to the players. Coaches at the school are educators with valuable experience in the sport as well.
Del Pedrick, Notre Dame's director of hockey development, and the head coach of the back-to-back TELUS Cup championship teams, has an extensive career in coaching, including stints in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, North American Hockey League and Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, and at the Canada Winter Games and World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
"There's a lot of positive development at Notre Dame and the student athletes are committed to progress," says Pedrick. "We have a confined atmosphere, everything is under one roof, and there's a lot of adult influence."
The school's campus offers an Olympic-size indoor rink that all Notre Dame teams – from Bantam to Junior A – play on, along with personal trainers, a university-level weight and cardio training centre, and a fully equipped gymnasium.
"They work you really hard," Koekkoek says. "They really push you at Notre Dame to be your best and it shows."