“Awesome!” And in one word, Will Koop pretty much summed up his experience thus far playing for Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alberta.
“It’s pretty awesome putting on the Team Canada jersey,” said the Steinbach Pistons’ forward. “This is an unreal experience. Playing against some of the best players in the world and other Junior A leagues in Canada. I can’t say much more than awesome.”
Koop is one of three MJHLers on Canada West joined by Pistons’ teammate Darby Gula and Riese Gaber of Dauphin Kings. Also representing the MJHL is Kings’ GM/Head Coach Marc Berry, who is an assistant coach with Canada West.
Koop, 18, has put behind any jitters and nerves and has shown off his talents thus far with one goal (against Russia) and a penalty shot (missed).
“I was actually getting out of the penalty box, and I had a partial breakaway,” Koop said of the penalty shot call. “I got hauled down before I got the shot off. They gave me the penalty shot.”
And yeah, he missed. Enough said on that.
But the entire tournament experience has left quite the impression on Koop, who hails from Winnipeg. Canada West is pretty much in a must-win situation now if they want to compete for the gold medal. The loss against Russia was a real eye-opener for all the Canada West players.
“Unreal speed and skill,” Koop said of the Russian squad. “The game was very fast and intense! There’s a big Canada-Russia rivalry. They were really battling; it was a big win for them.”
Aside from the hockey, there’s been the cultural experience for Koop.
“Couldn’t understand anything they were saying,” he said of the Russian players. “I know they were chirping us … but we had no idea what they were saying. That whole language thing was really different.”
Off the ice, Koop says Canada West spends a lot of team doing team building: which is very important during a short tournament. The quicker teams can bond, this often carries onto the ice with cohesive play.
“We do a lot of questions/answer stuff,” he says. “Kind of like a speed-dating. It’s fun. It’s a great experience.”
Koop’s roommate is Kyle Betts from the BCJHL (Powell River). Memories from this tournament will be talked about for years.
And then, there’s the really important part of the tournament − free stuff! Such as … Team Canada jersey. Dress sweater. Track jacket. Several workout shirts.
“Yeah, the free stuff is great,” Koop said with a laugh. “It just feels so cool to put on the Team Canada gear.”
While he might be two provinces over, Koop still manages to stay in contact with his Piston buddies, albeit on a limited basis. “They (Canada West team management) want us to stay off our phones and really concentrate on the tournament.
“I’ve texted the boys (Pistons) a bit, and kept up to what they’re doing.”
It’s been a solid freshman year for Koop, who has 26 points (9-17) in 28 games. The experience of the WJAC will pay huge dividends when he returns back to his Piston pals, and the MJHL.
Team Canada West was selected from among the league’s five western Junior A leagues: the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL), Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL), and Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL).
Team Canada West has won gold four times (2006, 2007, 2011 and 2015), captured a silver medal three times (2008, 2009 and 2012) and won bronze in 2013. Team Canada East has won four silver medals (2006, 2007, 2010 and 2011), and took bronze in 2008. Since the first event in 2006, more than 260 NHL draft picks have played in the tournament.
The tournament continues all week with the medal round games on the weekend.