The World Junior Championships is must-watch hockey for most fans. A tournament part of celebrating the Christmas season. It’s no different for Kootenay International Junior Hockey League players. For that reason, this week’s Notebook reveals what they love about it.
The WJC has inspired Castlegar Rebels captain Josh Wiens. He looks forward to watching future NHL stars and players and their elite skill level.
“There is something fun about watching countries come together,” he says. “It’s so competitive and emotional and probably my most favourite hockey to watch.”
Like most people, Eberle’s goal in 2009 is among his favourite memories.
“I think that was the first one I watched,” says Wiens, who would have been turning nine at the time. “That was a pretty cool moment.”
Other favourite moments are Akil Thomas’s goal last year against the Russians and Tyler Steenbergen’s goal in 2018.
“The past four or five years watching, I try to look at how these guys play and learn what they are doing,” he says. “The different ways they play offensively and how creative they are. I try it out in practice and games.”
Last year Wiens watched Calen Addison, a Brandon, Man., native who he played against at the midget AAA level.
“The guy never made a mistake. He was so fast and strong,” Wiens says of the Minnesota Wild prospect. “He did everything really clean, really well and was always one step ahead of things. He is an awesome player.”
Keegan McDowell of the Kimberley Dynamiters says it’s so exciting. That feeling is heightened as McDowell watches Colorado Avalanche prospect Bowen Byram, who he played against in minor hockey, and Buffalo Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens, who McDowell met while working with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The excitement comes from the fans’ energy.
“When the team scores a goal, it’s just crazy,” he says. “Just seeing how enthusiastic the fans are, it gets you pumped just thinking about playing in that.”
Watching the tournament has always energized McDowell when he hits the ice for a season’s second half. It motivates him to have more success and watching with teammates is a lot of fun.
Jacob Biensch of the Chase Heat gets excited seeing the best class of players in their age group, who are future NHLers.
“It’s exciting as an NHL fan to see your team’s prospects,” says Biensch. “The Christmas feeling and watching the tournament is just awesome. It’s just something to look forward to every year.”
He remembers watching Eberle’s famous goal and Connor McDavid helping Canada claim gold in 2015. The WJC impacts Biensch who studies the players tendencies.
“I try to take notes and see if we can do that. You learn a lot from watching them because they are the same age as us,” says Biensch, of Marsden, Sask. “You get so excited to get back on the ice. I’m watching every game as much as I can.”
Like McDowell, Biensch is watching Canadian players he is familiar with, mostly from Alberta and Saskatchewan such as Kaedan Korczak of Yorkton, Sask., drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights, Braden Schneider of Prince Albert, a New York Rangers pick, as well as captain Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks and Kaiden Guhle, a Montreal Canadiens pick. Biensch says its cool to see them and added “it’s insane” to see how much Saskatoon’s Connor Zary, who just signed an entry-level contract with the Calgary Flames, has developed.
A student of the game, Kelowna Chief Marshall Porteous loves watching players in his age group perform at such a high level with talent and confidence.
“I think it goes a long way for players to just sit down and watch and learn from them,” he says. “I grew up in Calgary, so once I made it to midget, I’d start paying a lot more attention to the World Juniors to see these guys I was aspiring to be.”
Porteous played at the peewee level with Ian Scott, the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect who helped lead Canada to gold last year. Scott is now with the AHL Marlies.
“Getting to see him play in the World Juniors, just knowing he grew up 10 minutes from my house was so cool,” he says. “That is one of my favourite memories of watching that tournament.
“It’s just surprising and it makes you realize how talented these players are and how far they have come after they are playing a level with you,” continues Porteous. “Now they are up here, NHL draft picks playing for their country. It’s really cool to see.”
Porteous knows Colorado Avalanche draft pick Bowen Byram, who plays for the Vancouver Giants. Porteous tried out for the Giants at 16 and Byram was among the players also competing for a roster spot. He has memories of playing street hockey with Dylan Holloway, who plays for the University of Wisconsin.
Seeing how the players play motivates Porteous to try and do the same when he hits the ice with the Chiefs.