Most of the players competing at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge can’t say they have won a gold medal representing their country before.
Unless your name is Eric Florchuk.
The Canada Black forward donned the red and white of Team Canada back in July at the ISBHF World U16 Street & Ball Hockey Championship in Sheffield,
England, helping his country bring home the gold medal.
“My second year of Bantam hockey we had a new teammate join and said he was playing ball hockey and that they won nationals the year before,” says
Florchuk. “He asked me to join so I decided that I would play for one year and we ended up going to Newfoundland for nationals that year and then this past
summer I ended up at the world championship in England.
“It was a very fun experience. Playing against teams from across the world and playing with guys from across Canada was a great experience and I really
enjoyed my time overseas.”
Not only did the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., product make the team, he led the way in scoring with six goals and three assists in six games – good for third
in the tournament – while also opening the scoring in the gold medal game, a 2-1 win over Slovakia. Not bad considering he thought he would only play the
sport for one year.
“Eric delivered a dominating performance on the floor,” says Tyrel Spitzer, Canada’s U16 head coach. “He was identified as a player with the ability to
make his teammates better with his play-making abilities and elite level finish around the net. He was a consistent offensive threat for the Canadian team
through-out the tournament.
“What was equally as impressive was seeing him away from the game. He always had a smile on his face and always made sure to connect with each and every
teammate. Before and after pre-tournament practices, meals or team builders, he was often found paired up with a new teammate always trying to learn new
things about each member.”
Florchuk isn’t the only player to play for Canada both on the ice and on the floor. Alex Burrows, Brandon Hickey, Mark McNeill and Taylor Leier are just a
few who have done so before. None have won gold with both, but all have most likely seen improvements on the ice due to their competitive summer sport.
Ball hockey can improve hand-eye coordination, positioning and, most importantly, cardio. It’s played on a full-sized rink with the same amount of players,
but there is one big difference: You can’t glide on your skates. Your feet have to continually keep moving.
“There is there is no hitting, so you have to learn the importance of body positioning and using your stick, to stick-check opponents,” says Spitzer.
“Shooting and passing a ball is obviously different then a puck so you also get to work with your hand-eye coordination. Most of all, ball hockey lets you
get out of your skates and gives you a different look and feel to a game you love.”
In Florchuk’s case, ball hockey may help with something else, especially this week: he has that international tournament experience under his belt and has
dealt with some of the same pressures he’ll face at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“It will help a little bit,” says Florchuk. “This tournament will be another step forward for me and a bigger challenge for sure.”
The 6-foot, 162-pounder says he will continue to play ball hockey, but right now his focus is on the ice and helping Canada Black win a gold medal.
“The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is a big deal for me,” he says. “Anytime you can represent Canada and wear that crest is a huge honour. I am very
thankful for this opportunity.”
Florchuk arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., playing his best hockey of the season. He registered his first career WHL assist with the Victoria Royals on
Oct. 18, before firing home his first goal four nights later.
“Things have been really good so far,” he says. “For 16-years-old I think I am doing pretty well and I am getting lots of ice. Learning everything I can is
the number one thing for me this season. We had a slow start with the team, but we are moving forward now.”
Canada Black will hope that he can keep that momentum going once the puck drops at U17s. With Canada White, the Czech Republic and the United States on the
preliminary-round schedule, Florchuk knows getting his second gold medal in four months isn’t going to be easy.
“These guys are going to be the best of the best.”