Three Kitchener Rangers – Riley Damiani, Eric Guest and Giovanni Vallati – are among 66 of Canada’s best young hockey players selected to represent their country at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sault Ste. Marie, ON from October 27 – November 5.
Vallati will dress for Team Canada Black, while Damiani and Guest will skate for Team Canada Red. Along with Team Canada White, they will also face teams from Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States in their quest for gold. The selection process began with 111 players who took part in a seven-day development camp in late July.
The player selections were made by Ryan Jankowski, Hockey Canada’s director of player personnel, with assistance from Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence management group lead for under-17, Dale DeGray, and regional scouts Carl Bouchard (Quebec), Barclay Branch (Ontario), Wade Klippenstein (West), Kevin Mitchell (Atlantic), and Darrell Woodley (Ontario).
“These are the 66 best players in the country who are, by-and-large, making their first appearance in international competition as part of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence. They have been selected not only based on their current ability, but also on their potential to represent Canada at under-18 and junior competition in the coming years,” said Shawn Bullock, senior manager of hockey operations and men’s national teams for Hockey Canada. “This is a skilled group of high-performers with long-term international potential, and we look forward to working with them at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and in the future.”
Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence officially begins with the under-17 development camp in July, and runs through the men’s high-performance camps and teams up to, and including, Canada’s National Junior Team. Of the 66 players selected to wear the Maple Leaf, only Joe Veleno (Kirkland, Que./Saint John, QMJHL) has competed at the event before; Veleno, 16, was a member of Team Canada Black at the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and represented Canada at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in August.
Fifteen players (Burzan, Busby, Chisholm, Dudas, Focht, Groulx, MacDonald, McIsaac, McShane, Merkley, Nielsen, Roberts, Rodrigue, Smith, and Woo) earned a taste of international competition last February when they skated away from the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games with a silver medal. The Winter Youth Olympic Games were first introduced in 2012, and take place every four years.
The Essar Centre and John Rhodes Community Centre will play host to the eight teams who will gut it out during six days of competition in the hopes of securing gold for their country. Team Canada Black, Team Canada White, the Czech Republic and United States will play in Group A, while Team Canada Red, Finland, Russia and Sweden will comprise Group B.
Official tournament action gets underway on Sunday, Oct. 30, when Team Canada Red takes on Finland at 12 p.m. ET, followed by Team Canada Black facing 2015 champions, Team Canada White, at 4 p.m. ET. The gold-medal game will be played at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Essar Centre.
A full-tournament ticket package, which includes tickets to all 17 tournament games at the Essar Centre, is available for purchase online. Tickets to the five tournament games at the John Rhodes Community Centre, as well as all four exhibition games on Oct. 27, will be available at the door.
Since the first World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (then known as the Quebec Esso Cup) in 1986, more than 1,600 NHL draft picks have played in the tournament, including 13 of the last 16 first-overall selections (Ilya Kovalchuk, 2001; Rick Nash, 2002; Marc-André Fleury, 2003; Alexander Ovechkin,
2004; Erik Johnson, 2006; Patrick Kane, 2007; John Tavares, 2009; Taylor Hall, 2010; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 2011; Nathan MacKinnon, 2013; Aaron Ekblad, 2014; Connor McDavid, 2015; Auston Matthews, 2016).
For more information on the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, visit HockeyCanada.ca or follow along via social media on Facebook or Twitter.