Calgary, AB – The 2013 Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup officially kicked off today with a press conference in Calgary, AB. On ice action begins Thursday, October 31st, at Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary, AB, with the top 1998-born prospects from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia set to determine who is best in the west.
The Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup is the creation of the four western provincial hockey associations, in partnership with the Western Hockey League. The tournament, now in its fourth year, sees 80 of the top prospects from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia battle it out for western Canadian supremacy.
“The Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup will showcase the top ranked 15-year-old players from each province and will be one of the most significant hockey events in Western Canada this season,” commented WHL Commissioner Ron Robison. “This will be the first step in Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence for players in this age group and a high level competition such as this will definitely assist with their development as a player.”
The Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup provides an outstanding opportunity for fans to see the next wave of WHL stars compete at the highest level. Of the 80 players who will compete in the tournament, 73 were selected in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, including 20 who were chosen in the first round.
Team BC enters the 2013 Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup as the defending champions, having dethroned two-time defending champion Alberta 9-3 in the Gold medal game.
While they may feature an entirely new lineup for the 2013 tournament, Team BC features just as much skill as last year’s edition, as well as considerable grit.
“I think we are going to be hard to play against,” said Trevor Sprague, head coach for Team BC. “This team has about the same amount of talent as last year’s team, but I think we have just a bit more grit. We are a team that’s not going to give up a lot defensively, and guys are going to pay the price to play against us.
“We’ve developed a 200-ft team, and a team that’s not going to back down in giving up any ground and letting pucks get past our goaltenders,” he said.
Team Manitoba comes into the tournament looking to improve on their 4th-place finish in last year’s event. Manitoba head coach Doug Sinclair feels his side will have more offense in their arsenal, including first-round picks Brett Howden and Nolan Patrick, giving them a better chance at the Gold.
“I think we will be better this year,” said Sinclair, who was an assistant coach with the team in each of the last two events. “With the group of forwards we have this year, I think that’s going to be our strength this year…we are definitely better up front, we have a little more skill, we’ve got some size, and we’ve got some kids who work hard.
“Our top six forwards have good skill and they have the right attitude, so we’ll be looking to them to lead us in the right direction, and our bottom six guys are all character guys who we’ve identified roles for and who have all bought in,” he said.
Team Saskatchewan came away with a Bronze medal last year, all while battling through a flu bug that bit many of their players. This year, Saskatchewan head coach Del Pedrick says his team will be looking for contributions from right through their line-up, and some solid goaltending if they are to find success.
“We know we are going to need good goaltending for this tournament,” said Pedrick. “We feel we are very competitive with half the field in this tournament, but we know we are going to have to really step it up against a couple of the teams, so that’s where our goaltending can play a big role.
“We may not have the most depth, in terms of goal-scoring, so that’s where we will need our goaltenders to make two or three big saves and help us win those close 3-2 and 4-3 games,” he added.
Team Alberta comes into the 2013 event having experienced the most success in the three previous editions of the event, winning the Gold medal in 2009 and 2011 while settling for Silver in 2012. This year, Alberta boasts plenty of star power, such as first overall 2013 WHL Bantam Draft pick Tyler Benson, who will look to guide the team back to the top of the podium.
“With the skill level we have, it will dictate how we play the game. With the players we have, we want to play an up-tempo game, use our skating ability, and let that skill take over,” said Alberta head coach Serge Lajoie. “That said, I think skill is just one part of what these guys are about because they all demonstrated tremendous character in going through the provincial camp, which is something that has us all very excited.”
Much like with Team BC’s Mathew Barzal last year, this year the spotlight will shine brightly on Team Alberta’s Tyler Benson, one of the most talented players in the world in his age group.
“The way we look at it is that this is an opportunity for a great, young hockey player to make others around him great, and how he brings other players along and helps them play at a higher level,” said Lajoie of Benson. “Obviously, when he has the puck, he’s incredibly dangerous because he has such a high hockey IQ, but the advantage we have with him on the team is he’ll also challenge other players around him to be better.”
The 2013 Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup opens on Thursday, October 31st with the Bronze and Gold medal games being played on Sunday, November 3rd.
2013 WESTERN CANADA UNDER-16 CHALLENGE CUP SCHEDULE
*all games will take place at Father David Bauer Arena (Calgary, AB)
Thursday, October 31
3:00pm – Saskatchewan @ British Columbia
7:00pm – Manitoba @ Alberta
Friday, November 1
3:00pm – British Columbia @ Manitoba
7:00pm – Saskatchewan @ Alberta
Saturday, November 2
11:00am – Alberta @ British Columbia
3:00pm – Manitoba @ Saskatchewan
Sunday, November 3
9:30am – BRONZE MEDAL GAME (3rd Place vs 4th Place)
1:30pm – GOLD MEDAL GAME (1st Place vs 2nd Place)
Up-to-date tournament rosters, standings, and stats are available for viewing and download here
Senior (65+) – $25
Youth (13 to 17) – $15
Senior (65+) – $8
Youth (13 to 17) – $5