Canada red will be the Canadian team taking up residence in Fort St. John during the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and the squad was on the ice at the North Peace Arena yesterday for their first practice. For those in attendance it was apparent right away the calibre of the athletes on the ice as a number of drills showcased their speed, stick handling, and ability to shoot the puck.
After practice concluded head coach Kris Knoblauch said work when up or down a man will be key in the tournament, and with that it was a major focus of the session.
“We did a lot of special teams, power play and penalty kill. In a tournament like this or anywhere special teams are so important. Teams are so evenly matched that usually the difference is one goal and that usually comes down to the power play/penalty kill,” he said.
Given the limited time together on the ice and not knowing each other well it can be a challenge to get the teams ready to play when it comes time to begin the tournament.
“I don’t think you can prepare enough. That’s a pretty important thing where these guys don’t know each other. You hear it all the time about how important team chemistry is. Are guys buying into their role, do they want to win, do they want to block shots, and do those little things that are important to team success,” he said.
Despite getting a glimpse of the talent a few months back, Knoblauch said players are entering the tournament each under different circumstances and all of that will play a role when it comes to finalizing line combinations.
“It is quite difficult. We saw them in the summer and a lot has changed in 3-4 months. Players have had a big role with their clubs and they’ve been given a lot of opportunities. Some other players whether they just had a slow start, whether maybe it was an injury, they haven’t had the same opportunity. They’re a little bit behind those other guys. A lot of players have changed. After that first practice we have to re-evaluate what we want from our lines and those power play units,” he said.
Canada red will be back on the ice today at the North Peace Arena from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. They’ll also practice Thursday 12:45 p.m. until 3:15 p.m.
Their first game action will come on Friday as they’ll be in Dawson Creek for a pre-tournament game against the United States. They’ll return to Fort St. John to begin the preliminary round with a game against Finland on Sunday at 7 p.m.