The 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge kicks off on Saturday in Drummondville and Victoriaville, Quebec. The teams are playing exhibition games on Friday to get accustomed to each other and then will play for real starting on Saturday.
The Moose Jaw Warriors are well represented at this year's tournament with two players on Team West, Miles Warkentine and Josh Uhrich, and one on Team Pacific, Brayden Point. The WHL club will also be sending a member of their front office staff to the tournament with Rob Maclachlan, the Warriors' assistant general manager and head scout, serving as the head scout for Team West.
It was Maclachlan who, along with the coaching staff led by head coach Don MacGillvray, pieced together this year's squad to take part in the World Under-17s. The process started with a summer camp and then from there, the team was finialized.
“I've dealt with these kids and know them very well going through their draft years as bantams and most of them playing the Western Hockey League,” explained Maclachlan. “It hasn't as big as job, but it's just a matter of putting the right team together and put a team together that can win.
“We're fortunate this year because we do have a lot of good kids in that age group, and a lot of high draft picks that have turned out very well. I wanted size on the defence, mobility, I wanted speed, and character because in the short term competition, you can't make any mistakes, you have to compete every shift in every game.”
With the likes of Ryan Pilon from the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Haydn Fleury with the Red Deer Rebels anchoring the back end for Team West, Maclachlan sees that as the team's definite strong spot, “These guys are playing big minutes in the Western Hockey League. Fleury looks like he's 18-year-old out there, Pilon looks very good. We don't have a defenceman under 6'3.”
The offence is also looking like one of the stronger groups that Team West has put together in recent years with many players coming from last year's Saskatoon Contacts team that finished third at the Telus Cup. “We've got two lines that can put the puck in the net, guys are scoring in the WHL, and so our goal scoring should be fine,” stated Maclachlan. “Hopefully we've put together a solid third and fourth line that can play with some of the top lines and get the job done.”
Warkentine and Uhrich will be joined by Moose Jaw Generals captain Rhett Gardner as players for Moose Jaw fans to watch on Team West. Maclachlan says he didn't play favourites either as they all earned their way on the team, “I'm taking the best kids, both those kids deserve to be there, just as Rhett Gardner deserves to be there. He's playing Midget AAA, he's a very good hockey player and going to a big solid centreman for us.”
Although the team is picked, that doesn't mean Maclachlan's job is done as head scout. He's with the team in Quebec to pre-scout some of the European teams and help set up the lines that Team West will take into their opening game on Saturday against Sweden.
“I'll be sitting in the stands for the first exhibition game (against Slovakia on Friday) and be tiring to put together line combinations, guys that are maybe going to click together,” explained Maclachlan. “The European teams are unknown, so the coaches will go out to watch some of the teams that we're going to play and identify some of their top lines.”
When watching those European teams, Maclachlan adds that he'll also have his Moose Jaw Warriors scout cap on to try to identify players that the team could pick up in next year's CHL Import Draft.
The World Under-17s get underway on Saturday. Team West battles Sweden at 12:30pm in Drummondville, while Team Pacific will play Russia in their opener at 6:30pm.
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