Northern Alberta quartet part of Team Pacific squad for annual international hockey tourney

Title: Northern Alberta quartet part of Team Pacific squad for annual international hockey tourney
Date: December 27, 2012
Original Source: The Edmonton Journal
Synopsis: I am doing a short internship over the holidays at The Edmonton Journal. My latest piece was a feature on four local players suiting up for Team Pacific in the World U-17 Hockey Challenge. This article appeared in the Dec. 28 edition of the Edmonton Journal.

EDMONTON – When Team Alberta won the Under-16 West Coast Canadian Challenge last year, Jordan Papirny and John Quenneville thought their next chance to play together would be with the Brandon Wheat Kings somewhere down the line.

Instead, Papirny, Quenneville and two other northern Alberta 16-year-olds will once again team up to try to put Alberta’s hockey prowess on display, suiting up for Team Pacific in the World Under-17 Championships.

The tournament is co-hosted by Victoriaville and Drummondville this year and complements the ever popular World Junior Hockey Championships over the holiday break. Teams play exhibition games Friday, with the tournament proper beginning Saturday and running through Jan. 4.

Quenneville, Papirny, Thomas Foster and Brandon Hickey will join seven other Albertans and 11 B.C. products on the Pacific squad, one of five Canadian teams that will compete with Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, the United States and defending champion Russia.

The foursome previously played together on 2011’s West Coast Under-16 Canadian Challenge champion Team Alberta.

“We built a good relationship with each other on Team Alberta and in the summer camp,” said Quenneville, a six-foot forward who has eight points in 22 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL so far this season. “That will help us a lot with the short-term competition.”

The time on Team Alberta and the time spent in the summer evaluation camp make this a tight-knit group despite not playing in the regular season together. The team has its sights set on the podium this year, with one specific goal on the mind of their goaltender.

“We’re all pretty familiar with each other,” said Papirny. “I think combining Team B.C. and Team Alberta, we’re gonna have a really good team. Maybe we can get the first gold for Team Pacific.”

The Under-17 Championship is a key scouting event, as this year’s players are eligible for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The tournament has produced 1,272 drafted players since its inception in 1986, including 280 first-round picks. Players such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf and Joe Sakic have all suited up for Team Pacific and put their names on the radar of NHL teams.

For coaches, having a player named to the team can be bittersweet as it provides a great opportunity for the individual but the team loses that player for a few weeks. Don Hay, the head coach of the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, was selfless in his evaluation of Foster’s place on the squad.

“We’re excited about it,” Hay said. “Any time one of your players gets a chance to play for their country, it’s a great learning experience.”

Hay realizes the experience will help the six-foot forward from Slave Lake, who has two points in 13 games so far this season, which will also help the team in the long run.

“We expect him to come back even better,” Hay said.

Foster and Quenneville are both two-way forwards who are strong in their own zone. That’s great news for Papirny, the Team Pacific goaltender who has impressed so far this season with the South Side Athletic Club Midget AAA Boston Pizza Athletics. Papirny is also a Brandon draft pick, and he narrowly missed out on being the first 16-year old Wheat Kings goaltender since Trevor Kidd this season.

“I know I can play in the Western League, if not today or tomorrow then down the road,” said Papirny. “This will just be a big boost for me, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Papirny will also be protected by Hickey, the only one of the four who is yet to taste at least some exhibition action at the WHL level. But the Leduc native brings poise and maturity to the Team Pacific blue line that would normally be expected from someone more experienced. A 6’2” defensive defenceman, Hickey’s game is predicated on helping the team minimize mistakes while using his natural skating ability to push the puck.

“He’s very deserving of the opportunity to play on the team,” said Jason McKee, Hickey’s head coach and general manager with the Spruce Grove Saints of the AJHL. “He has consistently become better and worked hard to get there. This will only help him in the second half of the season.”

Also lending a hand for Team Pacific will be another Edmonton export in Oil Kings’ associate coach Steve Hamilton, who will join the staff as an assistant coach.

Team Pacific will face an early test Friday against Russia, following an exhibition game Thursday against the Americans. TSN will broadcast the gold-medal game on Jan. 4 at 5:30 p.m.


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