Braylon Shmyr wheels around the ice during the Brandon Wheat Kings’ Skills Day on Dec. 1. (FILE PHOTO)
Brandon rookie Jesse Gabrielle prepares to pass the puck. (FILE PHOTO)
Forced to push the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge to the back of their minds leading up to the Western Hockey League’s Christmas break, Jesse Gabrielle and Braylon Shmyr are now free to count down the days until they get the chance to pull on their Team Canada jerseys.
The 16-year-old Brandon Wheat Kings rookie forwards will both fly east on Boxing Day, making their way to Nova Scotia where Gabrielle will suit up for Team West and Shmyr with Team Pacific.
"You obviously want to focus on the season with the team that you’re a part of at that moment, but now we’re on the break and I’m just thinking about how fun it’s going to be seeing some of the guys I played with growing up," said Gabrielle, who has four goals and five assists in 21 games with the Wheat Kings.
"… It’s going to be a great experience for all of us and I think it’s going to be something we’re going to remember for a long time."
Gabrielle will be joined on Team West — made up of players from Manitoba and Saskatchewan — by Colt Conrad, a Wheat Kings’ prospect from St. Alphonse, as well as fellow forward Meyer Nell of Boissevain, defenceman Wyatt Kalynuk of Virden and goaltender Tyson Verhelst of Brandon.
Gabrielle and Shmyr both have spent time on both sides of the border for their regional squads. Gabrielle grew up in Moosomin, Sask., before moving to Minnesota and eventually to Brandon. Shmyr has spent significant time in Calgary and Vancouver, which he hopes will help him to gel with his teammates from Alberta and B.C., on the Pacific squad.
"It’s a quick tournament, so team bonding and getting us together as a team, that’s a huge aspect for this tournament," said Shmyr, who has two goals and four assists in 15 contests.
"Even the B.C. guys, when I played there in B.C., I played with or against most of them, and the same with Alberta guys, so I know every single guy and that’s going to help with the team bonding for sure."
This year’s tournament, which begins with exhibition games on Saturday before the preliminary round gets underway Sunday, is the last of its kind, with five regional Canadian squads taking on national teams from the United States, Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Germany.
Next year the regional Canadian teams will be replaced with three national teams, each made up of players from across the country, so Gabrielle is excited to have a last crack at representing both of his home provinces.
"I didn’t get a chance to play on a Team Saskatchewan; I was little bit disappointed about that," he said. "But getting to play now with Manitoba and Saskatchewan I think will be real fun, seeing how we stack up against Ontario, and Pacific and Team Atlantic and some of the European teams. I think it will be real fun for all of us."
West has won the event twice in the 21 times it’s been staged. Pacific has never claimed the top spot but has medalled 10 times, including five second-place finishes.
While both players have their eyes on the big prize at the end, there’s one other matchup that has caught their attention.
Pacific and West are in the same preliminary pool and will face each other on Monday. It will be the first game for West, while Pacific plays its opener a day earlier against Quebec.
Either way, it’s a game both Wheat Kings desperately want to win.
"Almost every day we’ve been talking about who’s going to beat each other," Shmyr said. "It’s all talk, but as soon as we get on the ice we can see who’s right about that."
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings will also have a representative of their coaching staff on duty in Nova Scotia, with Brandon goalie coach Brent Zelenewich filling the same role with Team West … West’s head coach will be St. Malo’s Dan Lambert, who regularly plies his trade as an assistant coach with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 24, 2013