Canada’s U-18 men’s hockey team has moved into the semi-final round of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial hockey tournament as the only team to have won all three of their preliminary round games.
Canada faces Czech Republic in their home arena in Breclav on Friday afternoon, and Sweden faces Finland in Piestany, Slovakia. The final bronze and gold medal games will be held Saturday.
Canada’s team includes Aldergrove defenceman Shea Theodore (Seattle WHL), along with three other B.C.-born players: team captain Sam Reinhart of West Vancouver (Kootenay WHL), Nic Petan of Delta (Portland WHL) and Curtis Lazar of Vernon (Edmonton WHL).
The team was selected August 6 in Toronto, from the cream of young players in the country. Other notable names on Canada’s roster include forward Max Domi (who, unlike his father Tie, has been staying out of the penalty box and on the score card), D-man Jordan Subban (P.K.’s younger brother), and goalie Eric Comrie (half brother to Mike “The Brick” and Paul Comrie).
Canada is aiming to win this tournament for the fifth time in a row. Canada has dominated this event, having won it 16 times overall since 1991.
Canada opened the series on August 13 with a 4-1 win over Switzerland, with goals by Nathan MacKinnon, Curtis Lazar, Nick Ritchie and Yan-Pavel Laplante.
The Canadian squad scored three power-play goals and added another while short-handed en route to a 7-5 victory over Sweden on Tuesday. Domi scored twice, while MacKinnon, Morgan Klimchuk, Anthony Duclair, Lazar and Reinhart had the other goals.
Canada was losing 2-0 to tournament co-host Slovakia on Wednesday but a three-goal burst in the final four minutes gave Canada a 3-2 win and a boost of confidence heading into the semifinals. Reinhart scored the winner with just 53 seconds left in regulation, following goals by Ryan Kujawinski and Josh Morrissey.
Canada faces the Czech co-hosts for the second time on Friday, after losing the preliminary game, 4-6, to the Czech Republic on August 11. Despite outshooting the Czechs 12-6 in the first period, Canada trailed 2-0 in the first 20 minutes, and they were down 5-0 at the end of the second.
Domi opened Canada’s scoring short-handed four minutes into the third and the Czechs got their last goal of the game two minutes later. Reinhart and Domi scored two minutes apart to cut the lead to three with just under 10 minutes remaining, and Jérémy Grégoire rounded out the scoring with one second on the clock.
However, the Czechs lost their opening game against Finland, 2-1, on Monday, before beating USA 5-2 on Tuesday and Russia 3-2 on Wednesday.
In addition to the semi-final games on Friday, Russia will play Switzerland for fifth place while Slovakia faces USA for seventh.
A fast-rising young hockey defender from Aldergrove is in Slovakia for the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Shea Theodore, who just turned 17 in July, is one of nine Western Hockey League players selected by Hockey Canada at the men’s U-18 national hockey camp at Toronto’s MasterCard Centre on August 6.
Canada has won the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament four consecutive years, and has won 17 of 21 summer under-18 tournaments since 1991. It will play in Group B in Piestany with Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland. Group A, which consists of Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic and the United States, will play out of Breclav.
The top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals on Friday, Aug. 17, with the gold medal game scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 18. There will be no TV or radio coverage of the event. Hockey Canada’s official website, www.hockeycanada.ca, is the place to find complete coverage of Canada at the tournament.
Canada’s roster is made up of 13 forwards, seven defencemen and two goaltenders. Head coach Todd Gill (Cardinal, Ont./Kingston, OHL), assembled the roster with support from assistant coaches Yanick Jean (Alma, Que./Victoriaville, QMJHL) and Scott Walker (Cambridge, Ont./Guelph, OHL), Kevin Prendergast, Hockey Canada’s head scout for the men’s Program of Excellence, and Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada’s vice-president of hockey operations/national teams.
“It was a very competitive camp, we could have easily chosen all these players to play in the tournament,” said Gill. “There is a lot of talent on the ice in this country, and we look forward to getting to Europe and continuing Canada’s great tradition at this event.”
This will not be Shea’s first European tournament. Shea won his first gold medal at the age of 11 when his triple-A All-Star team won all 18 games and the gold medal in Europe.
Winning gold has become almost second nature for Shea, as his U-16 B.C. team won the gold at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax in February of 2011.
Shea was also the most outstanding player in the history of Aldergrove Minor Hockey, consistently averaging above 125 in the plus-minus, reaching a peak of 164 in his bantam year.
“In minor hockey that’s a stupendous feat,” says Troy Theodore, president of AMHA as well as Shea’s proud uncle.
“In every team he’s played on, including the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds that he’s now with, he’s been an exceptional player.”
Troy credits AMHA coaches Steve Howerton and Dan and Kris Armstrong for helping Shea develop into the player he is today.
“Those three guys took him from Atom to Bantam, and then he went straight into Major Midget,” says Troy.
Shea had a great 2010-11 season with the BCMML’s Fraser Valley Bruins, netting 29 points in 35 games before being signed by Seattle to play the final four games of the WHL season. He went on to play 69 games and rack up 35 points for Seattle in the 2011-12 season, a remarkable number of games for a rookie. He was a third round selection, 64th overall, in the 2010 Bantam Draft.
“Seattle rode him hard in his rookie year but he just blossomed,” says Troy. “He was the best D-man they had and when you play against higher competition the better you get.”
Shea currently sits fifth on the team in scoring and is third among rookie defensemen in the WHL.
Shea’s father Cam says his son “has been eating, sleeping and breathing hockey since he was a toddler. There are very few truly gifted athletes but Shea is one; he’s just mentally zoned in and has phenomenal hand-eye coordination.
“I asked him once when he was young how he could see a split-second passing opportunity and he just looked at me and said, ‘I don’t understand your question. I just do it.'”
Born at Langley Memorial Hospital, Shea attended Betty Gilbert School during his elementary school years before attending his senior school years at Abbotsford’s Yale Hockey Academy, on the advice of Brad Bowen. Throughout those years Shea played for the AMHA.
“Shea had the opportunity to play for Burnaby Winter Club but he said he wanted to stay with Aldergrove,” says Cam.
“That was a most special time, those five-six years, when he played alongside Bakshi Gill. Those two boys could combine for goals in any game. And nobody who moved to Burnaby Winter Club is near where Shea is today.”
Cam said credit for Shea’s development should also go to coach Steve Potomak (seven years as Vancouver Selects coach) and Tim Preston of Impact Hockey Development, who has been Shea’s trainer for the past 10 years.
The only time Shea was ever cut from a team was last year’s Canada U-17 tryouts.
Cam said this only strengthened Shea’s resolve to try harder.
“He came home in March and trained so hard; he upped his size to 6’2″ and 185 pounds. He promised me on Father’s Day that he would make Team Canada this year.”
“It means a lot to me. It shows how hard I have worked and how far I have to go,” said Shea, in a statement prior to the camp.
Shea has earned a reputation for his cool-headed and calm manner on the ice, and impressed the eastern hockey scouts during last weekend’s camp in Toronto.
“Six scouts phoned Newport Sports and asked Shea’s agent Don Mehan who this player was and why they had never heard of him before; they had never seen a defender with ‘ice in his veins’ play like this before,” says Cam.
Shea scored a goal in each of the three camp scrimmages.
Seattle Thunderbirds general manager Russ Farwell said, “This is an exciting achievement for Shea. To be included in the top 22 players in Canada is an honour and clearly serves notice that Shea will be pushing to be a high selection in next year’s NHL Draft. He is a very exciting offensive player and the best is yet to come as he gains strength and confidence.”