When the final horn sounds at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Atlantic’s Michael Abbott and Brandon Pye will still have one big highlight on their hockey calendars.
Their club team, the St. John’s Pennecon Privateers, will welcome the top Midget teams from across the country from April 18-24 when it plays host to the 2011 TELUS Cup, Canada’s National Midget Championship.
For Abbott, it’ll be his second appearance at the national championship in as many years – he won bronze with the St. John’s Fog Devils at the 2010 tournament in Lévis, Que.
“The TELUS Cup is really intense because the pace of the games is very fast,” said Abbott in between games this week in Manitoba. “All the players are so quick and talented. You really have to play mistake-free hockey.”
Although he’s played in the championship before, the blueliner is far from having a “been there, done that” mentality.
“It’s always exciting to play in front a lot of people and with so much on the line.”
Pye, who will be playing in his first TELUS Cup, is equally excited for the opportunity.
“This year has been really busy, but I’m having fun,” said the grinning forward, referencing both the under-17s and the Privateers’ season. “I was nervous at first, but playing here with so many good players has really helped my game.”
Abbott said that the Privateers coaching staff isn’t shying away from the challenge of hosting the national championship. He said that the team has been doing extra drills in practice to help with speed, puck control and endurance.
“As a team, it is something we are working to be successful at,” the 16-year-old said. “As the host, you want to do well because so many people are cheering for you.”
Both Abbott and Pye confess that playing at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge has provided them with the groundwork of what it’s going to take to be successful at the TELUS Cup.
“Playing with so much pressure is good preparation for all the games and challenges ahead,” said Pye.
Among those challenges is becoming the first Atlantic team to ever win the National Midget Championship, and becoming the first host team since the Calgary Northstars in 1991 to hoist the trophy.
No Atlantic team has reached the gold medal game since 2002, when a 14-year-old Sidney Crosby almost single-handedly won gold for the Dartmouth Subways, racking up 24 points in six games en route to MVP honours. The Subways lost to the Tisdale Trojans in the final.