Jayce Hawryluk believes the time is right for a return to the podium for Team West at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
The high-scoring Brandon Wheat Kings rookie will be one of the centrepieces of the combined Manitoba-Saskatchewan team at the Challenge, slated for Dec. 29 to Jan. 4 in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Que.
In a tough field that includes five regional Canadian teams and national squads from five countries, Team West last medalled by winning bronze in 2008 and claimed its last gold in 2005. Hawryluk believes this year’s group has the potential to follow in the footsteps of those great teams.
"I know it’s the best players in my age group going to this tournament, so you’re going to have to impress everyone out there," said the 16-year-old Roblin native, who is seventh among Western Hockey League rookies in scoring, with nine goals and 23 points in 32 games this season. "I think our team’s going to have a good shot at winning it. I think we’ve got a good team and we’ve just got to work hard every game and I think we can surprise a lot of people."
Among the players joining Hawryluk in the quest will be Kamloops Blazers defenceman Jordan Thomson of Wawanesa and Elkhorn blue-liner Travis Sanheim, who is playing Midget AAA hockey with the Yellowhead Chiefs this season. Wheat Kings forward prospect Ryley Lindgren of the Midget AAA Winnipeg Thrashers is also on Team West as well as goalie Ty Edmonds of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Virden Oil Capitals.
Among those they’ll face is Team Pacific, a squad from Alberta and British Columbia that will count Wheat Kings rookie John Quenneville and Brandon prospect Jordan Papirny among its members.
In the international field, all five of the Canadian teams in essence become representatives of this country and that’s something that holds a great deal of appeal for Quenneville.
"I’ve thought about it a little bit," said Quenneville, an Edmonton product who has six goals and 13 points in 28 games with the Wheat Kings this season. "From what I’ve heard from other guys, they say it’s been a great experience for them just to be able to wear the jersey and to be able to represent my country. So I think it will be a great feeling."
For Hawryluk as well, pulling on the Maple Leaf will be the realization of one dream and the beginning of another.
"I’m beyond excited," he said. "It’s always something I’ve wanted to do, play for Team Canada, but it’s Team West, it’s another steping stone to the world juniors and I can’t wait. I’m counting down the days."
Apparently, Hawryluk and Quenneville have also been counting down the days until West and Pacific lock horns during the round robin on Jan. 2.
"I guess you could say (Quenneville) thinks they’ve got the upper hand but he underestimates our team," Hawryluk said with a grin. "I think we’re going to come out with the win, but that’s just talk. You never know."
Hawryluk’s not the only one who can talk.
"He’s completely out to lunch, honestly," Quenneville cracked. "He’s been chirping me about it … and I think he’s in a little bit over his head, but I guess we’ll see at the tournament."
ONE-TIMERS: Team West will be coached by Winnipeg Blues head coach/GM and former Neepawa Natives bench boss Don MacGillivray, with Wheat Kings assistant coach Dave Anning also on the staff. Anning stepped into the assistant role with Team West after Dwayne Gylywoychuk vacated it when he was named head coach of the Wheat Kings … Jody Norminton of Brandon is West’s equipment manager … West plays an exhibition game on Dec. 28 vs. Slovakia, then opens the tournament the next day vs. Sweden … Pacific plays the United States in a tuneup and opens vs. Russia.