Those representing West at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge won’t need to spend much time on introductions before the start of the tournament.
Of the 22 players that will suit up for the Saskatchewan- and Manitoba-based squad, eight won a bronze medal at the TELUS Cup, Canada’s National Midget Championship, last April as members of the Saskatoon Contacts.
“There are guys that had some chemistry together in the past, so we’ll try to see if that chemistry is still there,” said West head coach Don MacGillivray. “That gives us a good starting point for sure.”
Goaltender Rylan Parenteau, defenceman Nelson Nogier, and forwards Rourke Chartier, Reid Gardiner, Austin Glover, Vukie Mpofu, Kolten Olynek and Josh Uhrich will be reacquainted when the tournament commences Dec. 29 in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Que.
Mpofu replaced former Contacts teammate Dawson Leedahl, now of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, who will miss the tournament with a knee injury.
Based on what those Contacts players displayed last season, they shouldn’t have much problem picking up where they left off.
“They knew they could win every night,” said Contacts bench boss Marc Chartier, father of Rourke, who still coaches Parenteau, Olynek and Mpofu in Saskatoon. “It was a state of mind. They had such a high compete level.
“It’ll be nice in a short competition for those kids to have that mindset carry on. They still have it.”
Not much was expected from the Saskatoon Contacts in 2011-12. Externally that is.
“A lot of people didn’t think we were going to make playoffs,” said Chartier. “But we knew we had a good group of kids.”
The team featured 11 players born in 1996, making them one of the youngest teams in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League.
However, the Contacts finished second in the 12-team league with a 32-9-3 record, cruised through the playoffs by winning nine of 13 contests, and won the West Region championship to reach the TELUS Cup.
“Coming into last year, we were all brothers,” said Nogier, now a blue-liner for the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, noting most of the 1996-born Contacts played spring hockey together first.
“We had that chemistry coming into the year. We didn’t have to gain that chemistry because it was already there. Hopefully we can pull that together for this tournament as well.”
With West searching for its first World Under-17 Hockey Challenge gold medal since 2005, MacGillivray hopes so too.
Even with their success at the TELUS Cup, the Contacts players will have to up the ante for West to be able to contend against Group A rivals Finland, Pacific, Russia and Sweden.
“Obviously, this is a different tournament and a different level of play,” said MacGillivray, whose days job is as head coach of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winnipeg Blues.
“We’re going to have to be exceptionally good to have success in this tournament.”
Among those with Contacts’ ties, MacGillivray will count on Gardiner and Rourke Chartier.
Gardiner has 13 points in 23 games for the Prince Albert Raiders, while Chartier posted 18 points in 32 games for the Kelowna Rockets.
Chartier skated with Olynek last season. Olynek, a Lethbridge Hurricanes prospect, now leads the SMAAAHL with 53 points. Right behind him is current linemate Mpofu, a Red Deer Rebels pick who played last season as a blue-liner, with 43 points.
Given the hectic schedule – five games in six days, including exhibition – MacGillivray will take every advantage he can get. And that starts with his Contacts chemistry.
“It’s not a ton of time. We’ll have some things to go over and cover,” said MacGillivray. “We’ve got to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
“It’ll help that those guys have played together.”