Merritt Centennials head coach Luke Pierce has been selected to serve as an assistant coach for Team Canada West at the 2014 World Junior A Challenge, slated for December 14 to 20 in Kindersley, Sask.

Last year, Pierce was the head coach of Team Canada West at the CJHL’s Top Prospects Game, which was held in conjunction with the 2013 WJAC in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

“I’m honoured to be given the opportunity to join the Canada West staff, and to work with such an elite group of players and coaches,” Pierce said in a press release issued August 25. “I look forward to helping prepare for the camp and tournament, and am excited that we have the opportunity to play on our home turf. My experiences with Hockey Canada have always been first class, and I expect that this will be no different.”

Pierce joins a Team Canada West coaching staff headed up by Trent Cassan, bench boss of the 2013 RBC-champion Yorkton Terriers of the SJHL. Cassan was an assistant coach with Team Canada West at the 2013 WJAC.

In addition to Pierce, Hockey Canada also selected Tim Fragle from the Sherwood Park Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League and Jason Williamson from the Vernon Vipers as assistant coaches under Cassan.

“One thing that you learn about Hockey Canada is that they like to develop and go through a process — from being a guest coach at first to helping with the selection process to being an assistant coach and hopefully one day to being a head coach,” Pierce said. “It’s an honour to know that they want to keep having you back.”

Pierce is excited about this year’s Canada West coaching personnel.

“We’re a young group,” Pierce said. “Trent and I have developed a good relationship over the last few years. We started with our teams at the same time and have shared a lot of things. As for Tim, he actually played for Merritt very briefly at the same time as my brother Ben. Jason, of course, I know well from Vernon.”

Canada West has appeared in six of the eight gold-medal games at the World Junior A Challenge since the tournament’s inception in 2006. The team won gold the very first year (Yorkton/Humboldt, Sask.), in 2007 (Trail/Nelson) and in 2012 (Langley).

Coincidentally, all three Canada West gold-medal teams included a former Merritt Centennial on their rosters. In 2006-2007, it was Casey Pierro-Zabotel, and in 2012, it was Reece Willcox.

On Sept. 3, Hockey Canada announced that the six teams competing in this year’s World Junior A Challenge would be:
Group A – Canada East, United States, Switzerland
Group B – Canada West, Russia, Denmark.

Round robin games at the 2014 WJAC will take place from Dec. 14 to 16, with the winner of each group earning a bye to the semi-finals on Dec. 18. The losers of each semi-final will play for the bronze medal on Dec. 19. The gold-medal game will go on Saturday, Dec. 20.

“It’s exciting to watch the growth of Junior A hockey across Canada,” president and CEO of Hockey Canada Tom Renney said. “The World Junior A Challenge has undoubtedly played a lead role in that growth. Canada’s 10 CJHL leagues continue to produce world-class talent.”

Since the first WJAC in 2006, over 200 NHL draft picks have played in the tournament, including 21 first-round selections such as Beau Bennett, Joe Colbourne, Nikita Filatov, Kyle Turris and John Moore.