If you wanted to find out just how competitive U SPORTS men’s hockey really is, then you might want to start by asking the 2017 gold medal-winning Canadian world junior hockey team.
On Dec. 13-14 at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, Ont., during Hockey Canada’s world junior selection camp, the young Team Canada hopefuls took on a squad made up of U SPORTS all-stars from across the country in an exhibition series designed to evaluate the national junior team.
To the surprise of many, the U SPORTS all-star squad was able to come away with a decisive series sweep of Team Canada. In the first game, U SPORTS was backstopped to a win by eventual team Canada goalies Carter Hart and Colten Point with goals coming from Luke Philp (University of Alberta), Michael Clarke (St. Francis Xavier University) and Logan McVeigh (University of Saskatchewan) for a 3-0 victory.
“We had Point and Hart for the first game and we definitely needed them for the first half of the game,” Saskatchewan Huskies defenceman and U SPORTS all-star captain Kendall McFaull said.
“We were on our heels a little bit just trying to get used to the world juniors’ speed. Hart kind of stood on his head and we came together in the last half of the second and third period.”
In the second half of the back-to-back, the U SPORTS crew won a thrilling 4-3 tilt after the Alberta’s Jason Fram scored a game-winning powerplay goal with six seconds remaining.
“In the second game we were all over them, we even out-shot them the second game. It was nice to have Fram score that goal with six seconds left because our bench went nuts,” McFaull said.
“It was like winning a championship for us. Even though it was an exhibition game, we felt that we had something to prove playing against the [Canadian] world juniors [team].”
Although it was an exhibition series, the U SPORTS all-stars knew this trip would not be a vacation, and was a chance to do something special by bringing university hockey out of the shadows and in to the forefront of the hockey landscape in this country.
“I think a lot of the guys felt that U SPORTS gets overlooked as a whole. For lots of guys this is still a stepping stone to professional hockey and I don’t think people realize that,” McFaull said.
“So for us to showcase the talent against the [Canadian] world juniors and prove that this is how good U SPORTS hockey is was something really important to us and we treated it like they were big games and not just your typical all-star games.”
The U SPORTS team was happy to come home with the results that they were looking for in this exhibition series, and at the same time serve as a test for the national junior team. But the narrative coming out of the event was frustrating for the university players as the conversation surrounding the series revolved around the struggles of team Canada, rather than the high level of play from the U SPORTS team.
“I know we weren’t there for us, we were there to help make team Canada better but all the guys wanted was some recognition of ‘Hey, the U SPORTS team played awesome, maybe this hockey is better than we expected,’” McFaull said.
“All we wanted was a tip of the hat just to help everybody else realize how good it is.”