Merritt Centennials head coach Luke Pierce and 19-year-old netminder Tyler Steel have nothing but good things to say about their experience at the training camp held in Calgary from Oct. 27 to 31 to select the 22-member Team Canada West squad that is currently competing at the 2012 World Junior A Challenge.
This year’s WJAC is being held in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia from Nov. 5 to 11. In addition to Canada West, the six-day tournament includes teams from Canada East, the USA, Russia, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
Pierce was in attendance at the Canada West training camp in Calgary as part of a six-member coaching panel that assisted head coach Dean Brockman from Saskatchewan and his two assistants, Jason McKee (Alberta) and Ryan Smith (Manitoba), make the final decision on which players to select to the team.
Steel was one of six goalies from the four western provinces invited to the training camp to contend for the two available spots on the Canada West team. Other BCHL netminders were Jonah Imoo from the Powell River Kings and the Penticton Vees’ Chad Katunar.
“[The experience] was pretty incredible,” Pierce said. “The facilities there, the organization, the way that they treated everybody, was pretty first-class. It was definitely worth the time”
Pierce went on to add that his role, and that of the other five coaches, was primarily to help facilitate the [selection] process.
“Two of us were assigned to each of three camp teams. I was with Team White. We went from place to place with the players in our group, ate with them, and generally got to know them away from the rink. At the end of the day, it was the coaching staff that was taking the team to the WJAC that made the final decisions on who they wanted, but we gave our input when we were asked for it.”
While Steel was not one of the two goalies chosen to Team Canada West following four days of practices and games, the Vernon native was pleased with the experience and his own performance.
“It was great – just to have the opportunity to wear your country’s colors and logo, even if it was only at the selection camp. I learned a lot of good things from some of the best coaches in the country.”
At the selection camp, Steel and Imoo were the two netminders for Team Blue. Their team went 1-1 in its two scrimmages, losing 2-1 to Team Red and defeating Team White 5-1. In his two 30-minute sessions between the pipes, Steel didn’t allow a goal.
“The first game, I only faced about four shots, but in the second one, I had a lot more shots,” Steel stated. “In the end, I don’t think it really came down to how I played. It was actually more of an age issue. Being a 1993 kind of worked against me. They leaned heavily on the ’94s.”
Pierce clarified the situation even more. “Tyler did everything he could do. There were a lot of factors they had to take into consideration, and the number of ’93s was one of them. They were only allowed five on the team, and [the coaches] had to make a decision on how to use those spots. They felt there were some guys up front that they really needed for scoring and leadership, and in the end decided to go with two ’94 goaltenders.”
Steel certainly felt no ill will towards his roommate and BCHL rival, Imoo, who was selected along with Curtis Skip from Grande Prairie.
“[Jonah] is a great guy. I didn’t know him at all before camp, but we got to spend a lot of time together. He had a good camp, and congratulations to him for being chosen to the team.”