It’s a tournament with an impressive list of alumni featuring more than 1,800 NHL draft picks, including names like Connor McDavid, Carey Price and Alexander Ovechkin. For those who made the cut for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, the opportunity has not been taken for granted.
“You always do your research and see the players that have been through this tournament and it’s a pretty good list,” said Matt Savoie, a top prospect for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.
Savoie is one of just two 2004-born Canadian players to make the cut in the under-17 tournament which features 15- and 16-year-old skaters. The other, Shane Wright, is also expected to go high in 2022.
“It’s been a huge honour to wear the maple leaf. It’s every kid’s dream,” said Savoie. “I’m just making the most of it and I’m looking forward to the rest of the tournament.”
The St. Albert, Alta., product was the first-ever draft pick of the Western Hockey League’s Winnipeg Ice — after relocating from Cranbrook, B.C. — at first overall in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft earlier this year, and was then denied the opportunity to become the first player to ever earn exceptional status in the WHL.
But Savoie is just one of the impressive prospects fans can watch at the World Under-17s, and for those in Medicine Hat, Alta. — which is co-hosting the tournament with Swift Current, Sask. — a familiar face has been impressive so far.
“It’s super exciting,” said Medicine Hat Tigers rookie Cole Sillinger, who was leading the tournament in goals (five) heading into quarterfinal action Thursday.
“My teammates have so much support for me and the coaches, they know it’s a big deal and it just makes it that much more special.”
Sillinger has been turning heads in his first full season in the WHL; his 17 points (8G, 9A) through 14 games are second among rookies in the league, and his offense has now translated to the international stage.
As the son of Mike Sillinger, who played 1,049 NHL games, he also recognizes the opportunity in front of him.
“U-17 is kind of the first time any player gets to wear the maple leaf on their chest, so it’s pretty special for everybody,” said the 16-year-old.
In July, 112 players were invited to Canada’s national under-17 development camp in Calgary and introduced to the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence.
“They start the evaluation process right from that point on,” said Jeff Beck, senior manager of Events and Properties for Hockey Canada. “Then, through the beginning of their year, our scouting staff continues to monitor them.”
From there, head scout Brad McEwen and his team narrowed the list down to the top 66 players in the country, making up the three Canadian teams in the tournament: Team Canada Red, Team Canada White and Team Canada Black.
“We could decide to send one team but the goal here is to expose the maximum amount of players, so the best 66 in Canada,” said Sylvain Favreau, the head coach of Team Canada White.
“That way, Hockey Canada can better evaluate these players and funnel them through the process of U-18s and under-20s.”
The three Canadian squads face competition from the United States, Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland and Russia.
With quarterfinal action beginning Thursday, Beck said Hockey Canada is pleased with the reception from the two Prairie-province cities.
“The crowds have been good, the communities have both really supported it and they have been treated to great hockey.
The Canalta Centre in Medicine Hat will host the bronze and gold medal games Saturday, while the Innovation Credit Union iPlex in Swift Current will see semi-final action Friday, followed by placement games on Saturday.