Team Kazakhstan will be arriving in Port Alberni next week as part of a pre-tournament showcase before the IIHF World Junior Championship kicks off in Victoria and Vancouver.
The Kazakhstan National Team will compete on the ice at the Alberni Valley Multiplex in a pre-tournament game against Switzerland, and the team will also be using Port Alberni ice for its practice sessions. But the Road to the World Juniors also offers a unique opportunity: the Kazakhstan National Team will be squaring up against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs Junior A Hockey Team in an exhibition game on Wednesday, Dec. 19.
The Bulldogs are the only team in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) that will be seeing action against a World Juniors team during pre-tournament play. Head coach Matt Hughes said the team is excited about the opportunity.
“It’s something unique for both our players and the city,” he said. “In terms of preparing, there’s not much we can do. It’s probably going to be a different style of hockey game so we’re just going to have to make sure we’re sharp and we’re ready to go when the puck drops.”
This is not the first time Hughes has been involved in an international tournament. In 2009, he won silver as the assistant coach and video coach for the Hockey Canada World U17 program—which was also hosted in Port Alberni.
“When you get to that level, when you’re facing a country’s national team, you’ve got to expect they’re going to have a handful of NHL prospects on their team,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to try and figure out who those guys are and the numbers they’re wearing so we can figure out who we’ve got to pay attention to.”
Both Bulldogs goaltender John Hawthorne and forward Keaton Mastrodonato described it as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“Especially for the older guys,” Hawthorne added. “We probably won’t get another chance at this.”
“All the guys are looking forward to it,” said Mastrodonato. “Not everyone in their lifetime is going to get to play against a World Juniors team, and I think for us it’s a pretty special moment.”
The Kazakhstan team will be practicing at the Alberni Valley Multiplex before the exhibition game, so Hawthorne said there will be a bit of video to look at before their tilt on Wednesday.
“Other than that, we’ll just get ready how we normally do for a game,” he said.
Mastrodonato said the team is taking it “like any other game.”
“We can’t overemphasize anything too much,” he said. “We’ve got to treat it like any other game and just enjoy the experience.”
Hughes said he is expecting a high level of play from the Kazakhstan National Team, and people who are not necessarily hockey fans might still be interested in the event. “It’s something different,” he said.
The game is also an opportunity for the BCHL, he added.
“If things go well, it makes our league look very competitive,” he said. “We’re going to try to make ourselves the best representatives we can.”
Tickets are still available for the Dec. 19 game at tickets.albernivalleybulldogs.ca or at the Multiplex office.
In a partnership with the Port Alberni Port Authority, the Bulldogs will see more than 100 local school students visit the practice sessions for Team Kazakhstan, including a tour of the dressing rooms and an autograph session with the national team.
Team Kazakhstan practices will be open to the public to attend all this week. The practice schedule is as follows:
Tuesday, Dec. 18 – 4:00-5:15 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 19 – 11:00-11:45 a.m.
Thursday, Dec. 20 – 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 21 – 11:00-11:45 a.m.