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In My Own Words: Akilah Thomas

The mother of 2020 World Juniors hero Akil Thomas talks about her life as a hockey mom, her reaction to her son’s historic goal, and what the game has meant to her and her family

Akilah Thomas
|
February 10, 2021

Akil knew he was going to score. And so did I.

The morning of the gold medal game at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, Akil texted me. Our family … we are manifesters. We visualize what we want. And Akil visualized himself scoring. Once he sets an intention, he’s going to do everything he can to make it happen.

He texted me and said “Mom, I’m going to score the winning goal.” That made my day.

I have goosebumps when I talk about that moment. As a parent, it was tough to see him on the bench for most of the game. I know his emotions and I know what was going through his mind.

But he got his chance. With four minutes to go, he got the tap from Dale Hunter. Everything he had visualized was coming true. It was going to happen. He had the puck, he poked it past the Russian defenceman. And then…

The television froze.

Suddenly there was nothing on the screen. What happened?

And then the texts and calls and FaceTimes started. When the TV came back, the boys were celebrating. We saw the replay. Our house went nuts. I erupted in tears. Ugly crying.

It was just so gratifying because I know he sat on the bench frustrated. But he finally did it and he told me he would. He kept his word. His manifestation worked.

When he scored that goal, every single practice came to mind. Every runny nose, every game, every city, every move, everything about his whole life came to mind in that moment because it was so beautiful. Nothing mattered but that golden moment. Everything else melted away.

That moment happened because of a game, and because of a country, and because of a coach, and because of a little boy that dared to dream. That's what that was for me.

There were so many calls and so many texts and so many messages. I think we heard from every single member of our family, including Akil’s two great-grandmothers in Barbados. The love and support from every city that we had lived in was enormous. Oklahoma people were reaching out, Memphis was reaching out, Michigan was reaching out, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, it was just amazing.

And everyone that reached out had played some role, big or small, in our journey as a hockey family.

I emigrated to Canada in 1986 from Barbados. Not exactly a hockey hotbed. All we knew was tropical life. We moved to Toronto, which was the first shock because it was winter and we stayed inside more than we went outside. Winter was a lot longer than summer.

When I was in high school I met Akil’s dad, Kahlil, who was playing junior hockey at the time. About a month later, he asked if I wanted to come to a hockey game. So, I went to the rink and it was … cold. Very cold. But I haven’t stopped going to the rink since. It went from Kahlil’s hockey to Akil’s hockey to my youngest son Akyn’s hockey. I was a hockey wife and a hockey mom, and I loved it.

And because Kahlil was playing and was constantly on the move, so were we as a family. He went from Pensacola to Flint to Memphis to Flint again to Oklahoma City to Jacksonville and Orlando. Every few years, it was a new team in a new city in a new state.

Akil started skating two days before his second birthday. By the time he was two-and-a-half, he joined a team. He was so little he could barely talk, but he was ready to play. The problem was finding equipment. We were living in Memphis at the time, and they didn’t have anything small enough for him. We ended up having Akil’s Uncle Mike, who lived in Toronto, find little gloves and little shinpads and hand-deliver them to us in Tennessee.

As we went along, two kids became three, became four, became five. There was always somewhere to be, something to do. If it wasn’t hockey, it was vocal training. Or it was ballet. Or one of the kids had to go shopping. It kept us on our toes all the time and kept things interesting.

When it came time to move again, we just did it. We never thought about it. It wasn't stressful, we just sorted everything, packed it and off we went to a new location. The first thing we did once we got unpacked is find out where the team was for Akil.

I can’t say enough about the hockey community. Every time we moved, it was like becoming part of another family. That’s such an incredible part of the game. Every team Kahlil played on, there was a welcoming committee of some kind that would show you the ropes and help you out around town.

Because we were around them so much, I always got to know the wives on the team and the moms of the other boys. There was always a games night or a girls’ night or we did spa days. It was actually a lot of fun being in the different cities. I really enjoyed those parts of my life, and they’ve given me friendships I still have to this day.

Akil was around 10 when we started to think he might benefit from a higher level of competition. He was playing in tournaments up and down the East Coast, and we had met a group of parents from Toronto who thought he would do really well there. Then he went to The Brick Tournament in Edmonton in the summer of 2010 and led the tournament in scoring. I think it was there he really decided he was a ‘Canadian’ hockey player.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sold. I was pregnant and we had just settled in Orlando. I loved the warm weather. Kahlil was retired and it was time to finally settle down. But we made the trip north to check out a few schools, Akil fell in love with it, and we had to make another decision. Do we send him up there to board, or do we come along?

In the end, it wasn’t a tough decision. The economic recession was taking hold in the U.S., our family was in Toronto and, most of all, it was what was best for Akil. So, it was back to 6 a.m. practices in the cold, traffic jams on the 401 and another new start in a new city.  

It was such a great decision for the family. We got to be closer with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and Akil got to take the next step on his journey. He played two seasons with the Toronto Young Nationals and three with the Toronto Marlboros before he was a first-round pick of Niagara in the OHL draft.

Here's a funny story: When I was pregnant with Akil in 1999, I worked for a printing company in Toronto. Years later, long after I had left the company, the owners sold it and bought a junior hockey team – the Niagara IceDogs. So, when we went to St. Catharines after Akil was drafted, there was this unexpected reunion. Some of the staff from the printing company even worked for the IceDogs. It was so crazy, but felt so comfortable to hand off Akil to them. I knew he was in good hands.

From his first season in Niagara, Akil’s career has taken off. Internationally, he played for Canada at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, two IIHF U18 World Championships and, of course, the World Juniors. He was named the captain in Niagara in his last season, was taken in the second round by Los Angeles in the 2018 NHL Draft and just within the last week started his pro career in the AHL. I could not be prouder of what he has accomplished.

But I have always challenged him – what are you going to do with your success? He wants to impact the lives of other children any way he can. I co-founded a non-profit group, The DNA Brand, and through that we adopted a village of orphans in Ghana last March.

At Christmas, Akil was able to rally a bunch of NHL players, fans, friends and family to raise money and throw them their first-ever Christmas party. It was phenomenal. Since then, we have been able to open a school for them, and eventually we’re going to have hockey happen there.

Our goal is just to improve the lives of others in a positive way, whether through a conversation, mentorship or even just being an example.

Being an impromptu woman, doing things on the fly was not something I was good at. When you get into the hockey world, a trade can happen any day. You can get released from a team. The game could go into a shootout. As a mom, bedtimes, traditions and all these things didn't matter anymore – our life revolved around a hockey schedule.

Living and loving that life has taught me how to be more of a chameleon. I learned how to be more patient and how to not sweat the small stuff. I learned sacrifice. I learned patience. I learned to be adaptable and ready to change on the fly.

Being a hockey mom taught me to teach my kids strength. Not just physical strength, but emotional and mental strength. It taught me how lucky Akil is to be where he is, and that he has the power to give back to others so they can potentially have the same experience or even better.

It taught me that it's alright to share my tricks, my mindset, my habits, my schedules and my love … to boost up other kids, not just mine.

Even though I’ve never played a game, hockey has shaped a lot of me. I’m proud of who it has helped me become, but to see the amazing man it has helped my son become – that’s all a mother could ask for.

Susan Sloan wearing a shirt that says Volunteer in front of a balloon arch.

The gratitude for volunteering

After making the choice to begin volunteering to make friends in a new town, Susan Sloan can’t imagine what her life would be like without giving back to her community

Shannon Coulter
|
April 18, 2024

Susan Sloan can’t imagine her life without volunteering. In fact, she feels her life would be the complete opposite of what it is now if she hadn’t started donating her time.

Throughout her life, Sloan has had a variety of different jobs, from working in a bakery to an IT specialist and a fitness instructor at the YMCA. After moving to Orleans, Ontario—a community in the east end of Ottawa—in the early 2000s, Sloan took a one-year contact with Volunteer Canada that would change the course of her life.

“I thought since I’m working as their membership manager, I probably should know a little bit more about this volunteering thing,” she says. “But I had already decided that volunteering was the route that I wanted to take, really just to start making friends because I literally had none.”

Her first volunteer position was with Canadian Heritage to help with their Winter Lights Across Canada event. From there, she learned about Winterlude in Ottawa and decided to volunteer for it as well. By then she was on a roll, so she signed up to help with the Canada Day festivities.

“Those were my signature events—every year, with the exception of COVID, you would find me at all three of those events come hell or high water,” she says. “That was my core, and they are still my core to this day: 22 years later, I’m still volunteering with Canadian Heritage.”

Susan Sloan lies down in front to pose with a group of volunteers at a Canadian Heritage event in Ottawa

Interspersed between her three core events, Sloan got involved in “little adventures” to explore new volunteer experiences in areas she was interested in.

“I loved sports, so I would pretty much put myself into any event that needed volunteers,” she explains. “In Ottawa, it’s like a laundry list of opportunities; you could be busy every weekend starting on Thursday.”

She began with a volleyball tournament, then taught Zumba at Relay for Life. Soon her volunteer experiences began snowballing into more new opportunities in sports.

“Sports has always been my happy place,” she says. “Being in a small community and in Ottawa, once you are known and you’re affiliated with certain events, you start to get asked to work other events and help out.

“I’ve had some amazing opportunities that I would never have had anything to do with had I not been a volunteer.”

When Canada’s National Women’s Team came to Ottawa in 2021 for the Rivalry Series, Sloan volunteered to help with the Olympic jersey reveal and managed guests coming into the game.

“It was really delightful working with Hockey Canada,” she says. “I really appreciated and respected the respect that we received, and the gratefulness for just doing something that was so minor.”

Later this year, the 2025 IIHF World Junior Championship will be hosted in Ottawa. Through her connections gained from volunteering and her reputation in the community, Sloan was presented with a new opportunity: to become the volunteer co-chair for World Juniors. And coming from a family that loves hockey and watches the tournament every year, she agreed.

“The fact that I was asked to do [World Juniors] … they chose me. That was a choice and to be that choice is probably one of the most rewarding things in the world. And none of this would have happened had it not been for volunteering.”

Susan Sloan poses beside a Hockey Canada welcome sign

When the puck drops in December, Sloan is most excited for the tourists and guests to experience what Ottawa has to offer.

“It’s so amazing because as volunteers, you’re in the chaos of everything,” she says. “I love the diversity it brings to the city. It brings a certain energy that the only way you’re going to know what it’s like is if you’re there. It’s amazing to be a part of something.

“People are coming in from all over the world, and you get a chance to mingle with them. You get a chance to show up for your city.”

With her experience in so many volunteer positions, Sloan has a thorough understanding of the value every volunteer brings to the table.

“The synergy that’s created when you are with like-minded people is magical. You have volunteers who, without them, no event would happen,” she says. “IIHF wouldn’t run without their volunteers. Canada Day would not run without its volunteers.”

As her experience allowed her to help others begin their volunteer journeys, Sloan has seen people blossom in ways they never thought was possible. And for Sloan, there are no words to describe the gratitude she has for making the decision to begin volunteering 22 years ago.

“Everything that I am, everything that I will be, is because of volunteering,” she says. “There are not many things in our lives that we put this much effort into that the rewards are amplified upon receipt. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without volunteering.”

Interested in volunteering when the world comes back to Ottawa this winter? Registration for the TELUS World Juniors Volunteer Program is now open!

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Jaques ready for what comes next

After a decorated academic and athletic career at Ohio State University, Sophie Jaques is using her place in the game – with Team Canada and in the PWHL – to inspire the next generation

Jonathan Yue
|
February 21, 2024

Sophie Jaques had plans to pursue a career in civil engineering.

Instead, the 23-year-old finds herself living out her dream as a professional hockey player with PWHL Minnesota.

“It’s been a really exciting time for women’s hockey,” Jaques says. “It’s been great to play alongside the best players in the world and learn from all their experiences.”

Jaques was born in Toronto and grew up in the city's west end, where she developed an early love for hockey.

“I started playing hockey at Rennie Park by my house,” she recalls. “I really liked it, so my parents put me in a learn-to-play program and I fell in love with the game from there.

“I remember always having a smile on my face and enjoying the time with my friends, enjoying hot chocolate and those little things like jumping into the snowbank after the Zamboni came off the ice.”

While attending Silverthorn Collegiate in Etobicoke, Jaques played three seasons with the Toronto Aeros of the Provincial Women's Hockey League — now called the Ontario Women's Hockey League — winning league championships in 2016 and 2018.

Jaques recalls spending countless hours working on her game throughout her early years.

“I went to a lot of shooting clinics when I was younger, working on my shot in the backyard, and I think that helped take my shot to the next level and [it is] something I continue to use every time I step on the ice now.”

That level of commitment is what helped set Jaques apart, whether it was hockey or academics — something that became extremely evident in her five seasons at Ohio State University.

[Photo or social media post goes here]

Making history at OSU

Jaques’ teammates and coaches in Columbus describe her as an easygoing and brilliant student-athlete, but it was on the ice where her character and strength shone through with the Buckeyes.

“Things come naturally for Sophie,” says Nadine Muzerall, women’s hockey head coach at Ohio State. “Seeing her maturity grow over the years, her confidence was a big piece of that growth, and finding success on the ice, she became a leader.”

As a rookie in 2018-19, she led all OSU rookies with 21 points (6-15—21) before topping that with 24 points (9-15—24) as a sophomore.

After posting just two goals and four points in 20 games during the COVID-affected 2020-21 season, Jaques exploded as a senior. her 59 points (21-38—59) in 38 games rank as the second-most by a defender in Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) history and the most in Ohio State history. Her contributions led the Buckeyes to their first NCAA national championship and put the women’s hockey world on notice.

“It finally all just clicked that season,” says Jaques. “I developed more confidence in myself, and it allowed me to play at my best. The next season, I wanted to prove that it wasn’t a one-off season, that it wasn’t a fluke that senior season, and that I could play that way."

Jaques returned for a fifth year and picked up right where she left off. Not only did she earn a fellowship from OSU to fund her final year to complete her master’s degree in civil engineering, Jaques put up another 48 points (24-24—48) in 41 games, becoming the first Black woman and only the 10th Canadian to be awarded the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the best women’s hockey player in the NCAA.

“She’s one of the best defencemen to play college hockey and the fact that she joined before OSU was number one in the country, and she helped build this program, that says a lot about her character and being a builder,” Muzerall says.

Jaques filled her trophy case at Ohio State; in addition to the Kazmaier Award, she was a two-time First Team All-American, two-time WCHA Defender of the Year, WCHA Player of the Year, WCHA Outstanding Student-Athlete and a four-time member of the WCHA All-Academic Team.

In 2022, she won the Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Sport Scholar of the Year, an honour presented to a minority woman who has distinguished herself in her academic and athletic pursuits..

“I’ve coached a lot of people who had success, but I’ve very rarely coached someone as successful as Sophie,” says Muzerall. “In terms of point production as a defenceman, she’s the only person from Ohio State and all its respected programs to win the Arthur Ashe award, and she humbly accepted it. She was receiving national recognition, not just as a hockey player, but as a brilliant student-athlete, and that has never been done before.”

Reaching out to the community

Jaques’ achievements on and off the ice as a student-athlete only grew the game as her influence and leadership were felt among the young girls and boys in the community.

After finishing her college career last spring, Jaques returned home to Toronto to team up with Saroya Tinker to host the first Black Girl Hockey Club Canada summer camp, sharing her knowledge and experience with the next generation in the community she grew up in.

“At the beginning, it was something that I didn’t really know was happening, but I’m grateful to be in the position where I can inspire others,” Jaques says. “I want to help get more girls into hockey, and hopefully break down more barriers surrounding the game. It’s incredible to know now that I can play a small part in continuing to grow the game.”

Her reach only grew last November when she made her debut for Canada’s National Women’s Team in Los Angeles during the Rivalry Series.

“It was an incredibly grateful feeling to represent my country,” Jaques says. “Playing alongside someone like Jocelyn Larocque, who I watched when I was a young girl, and being around all those girls who have been pioneers for the women’s game, to finally get the chance to wear that jersey with that group, was incredible.”



Emma Maltais, who played with Jaques at Ohio State, was more than happy to welcome her friend to the national team. Before the game, it was Maltais who handed Jaques her Team Canada jersey.

“Sophie’s been dreaming of that moment for a long time,” says Maltais. “She’s so humble and for someone who is so good, there’s a calmness to her while she plays at such a high level. She’s so driven as a person too, in athletics and academics, and that speaks a lot to her as a person and her willingness to go the extra mile to find success.”

Trailblazer once again

After her outstanding college career, Jaques made history by becoming the first-ever Black player and the first Buckeye to be drafted into the PWHL when she was taken 10th overall by Boston — something that wasn’t even an option for her a year ago.

She made history once again earlier this month by being part of the very first PWHL trade when she was dealt to Minnesota.

“I'm really grateful that this year, it is a sustainable league with liveable wages so that I could pursue hockey,” she says. "With the PWHL being here, it helps with the next generation of Black hockey players see representation and show them that it is possible and keep them motivated in their journeys."

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Questions & Answers with Esther Madziya

The Hockey Canada communications manager opens up about her career path, working in sports media as a minority woman and what she’s telling the next generation

Jason La Rose
|
February 07, 2024

If you’re a working media member that has covered Canada’s National Women’s Team over the last four years, you know the name Esther Madziya.

But if you’re not and you don’t, you should.

A Hockey Canada communications manager, Madziya was part of the staff with the Olympic gold medal-winning team at Beijing 2022, sandwiched around a pair of IIHF Women’s World Championship gold medals, spending weeks and months on end in bubbles and quarantines during the COVID-19 pandemic, away from family and friends, with that singular golden goal in mind.

Outside of her Team Canada work, Madziya is an integral part of the Hockey Canada family, and was recognized for her contributions with the Hal Lewis Award as the organization's staff person of the year for the 2018-19 season.

To celebrate National Women and Girls in Sports Day and Black History Month, HockeyCanada.ca sat down with Madziya to talk about her journey and how the industry has evolved for minority women.

HC: How did you get your start in sports media?

EM: I went to SAIT [the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary] and took the broadcast journalism program. The program has evolved since then, but it was called CTSR – Cinema, Stage, Television and Radio. And then you could specialize in whatever you wanted to do.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do at school. Way back when, I wanted to get into accounting, which is not my jam at all, but I always liked sports. And I thought, ‘You know what, maybe I want to get into sports.’ So I took the broadcast program at SAIT, with the hope of getting into sports broadcasting and one day maybe being on TSN.

I ended up getting a job in radio. I did a practicum in Lethbridge, which is my hometown, at the radio station. The station also had the broadcast rights to Lethbridge Hurricanes games, so I was covering the intermission reports and updating scores and stats, and it just evolved from there.

HC: What was the landscape like in sports media for women when you came out of university?

EM: At that the time, there weren't a lot of women in sports. There was also not a lot of diversity, in broadcasting and in sports in particular.

Growing up, my parents always said, ‘No matter what happens, you are going to have to work harder than the next person. You're going to have to prove yourself all the time, because you are a woman and because you are a minority. Nothing's going to come easy for you.’

So that was just something that always stuck with me. And I remember some of my colleagues at SAIT, as we got closer to graduation, saying that it would be easier for me to get a job because I was a woman and a minority, which I didn’t necessarily agree with. But if being a woman and being a minority was going to get my foot in the door, then you know what, I'll accept it. But at the same time, if I can't do my job, it's not going to keep the door open very long.

It was just the reality of, you're going to have to work twice as hard as the next person if you want to have any opportunities. That was just something that always stuck with me.

HC: You’re coming up on nine years with Hockey Canada later this week; what was the career path to get here?

EM: I worked at the radio station in Lethbridge for four years, working the morning show and doing intermission reports with the Hurricanes. I moved into television at Global Lethbridge for a few years, and in 2002 was lucky enough to get a position as a sports reporter at Global Saskatoon. I focused on a lot of university sports, did men's and women's hockey, reporting on those. That was my beat. Canadian Junior Football, I covered the Saskatoon Hilltops. I covered volleyball, curling – learned a lot about curling – covered a lot of SJHL hockey, minor hockey, all that kind of stuff.

In 2010 there were cutbacks, and the industry as a whole was changing, so I decided to go home to Lethbridge. I went back to the radio station, started doing the morning show again, which I never thought I’d do, and was involved with Hurricanes games on both TV and radio.

A year later, the Hurricanes’ communications manager took another job in the Western Hockey League, and the team offered me the position. I was with the team for four years before the Hockey Canada position came open, and I started in February 2015.

HC: You’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing athletes, travel to amazing places, have a front-row seat to Canadian hockey history. What is that like?

EM: Honestly, it's hard to describe, because unless you're in it, you can't even really describe it. But never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that I'd have the opportunities that have come my way. I never would have imagined that I would have gone to some of the places that I've gone, had the opportunity to work with some of the athletes that I've worked with, had the opportunity to cover events, whether it’s from the event side or being embedded with a team.

I think the other piece that makes it special is what it means to my family. My family is incredibly proud of just seeing that this kid who, when she was younger, probably didn't always have the greatest focus on her studies, is doing what she's doing now.

There are times when I’ve hosted a press conference, and my family tells their friends, ‘That's our kid. That's my sister. That's my daughter.’ They're so proud of that, and that means the world to me, but I also know that I've always tried to be really respectful and try to work hard, and do right by the Madziya name. It means a lot to them, just as much as it means to me.

HC: You’ve mentioned your family a few times, and the influence they’ve had on you. How important has that support system been as you’ve progressed through your career?

EM: No matter what I wanted to do with my life, they've always just been in my corner. And I think for any kid to have their parents say, ‘We're so proud of you, no matter what you do. We see the work that you do,’ it's a cool thing.

Our last name is Madziya. We're the only Madziya family here in Canada, and they're really proud of that. Their support just means a lot, because they've always been there. My mom always says, ‘Look at the opportunities that you've been given, look at the jobs that you've had, and appreciate that. And even though there might be some hard times along the way, those hard times strengthen you and they're the reason that you keep having the opportunities that come your way.’

HC: To be one of the faces of Team Canada with national and international media… does that carry a little more weight, mean a little more, because you’re a minority woman?

EM: Absolutely, because there still is a little bit of, ‘Do I really belong here?’ In the back of my mind, there is still that little bit of… watch how you walk, watch how you carry yourself, watch how you're dealing with somebody, watch how you're dealing with other media, because if you offend somebody, it’s pretty easy to say, ‘Well, it was her.’

In the back of my mind, I'm always still thinking about working twice as hard. I just don't want to make any missteps, because I feel like somebody is just waiting for me to make a mistake to say, ‘See, that person can't do it. She's not qualified. She was just a token hire.’

Those things still play in the back of my mind. I don't think those things will ever not play in the back of my mind.

HC: Women’s hockey has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, and you’ve been able to see it up close. What has that been like to watch the game evolve?

EM: It’s pretty cool to see, because there's a lot of hard work that's gone into growing the game, and you see how passionate the athletes are, but you also see how passionate the staff is. So seeing where it's at and seeing so many people work so hard, that brings me a lot of joy, because they had their dreams when they were a little girl. And to see where things are at and to see the things that they've been able to do and accomplish, but to also get a front row seat to it, is pretty cool.

And I think one of the neatest things for me is that because I've been here nine years and have worked up and down the National Women’s Program, and at national events like the National Women’s Under-18 Championship, I’ve been able to see players from 16, 17, 18 years old through to the national team, and see the difference they’re making now. It’s pretty cool to see that progression – as hockey players and as women.

HC: Throughout your career in the media industry, how have you seen the doors open for women, and for minorities?

EM: It's like night and day. The industry has changed for the better. There are more opportunities, more doors opening up today. I think a lot of organizations have looked at their product and asked, ‘Is our TV program, is our news program, is our sports program indicative of what the rest of Canada looks like?’ Because it has to, otherwise you're not going to connect with people and you're going to lose them.

There are so many different avenues today. There are podcasts and influencers and so many other things that people are doing on their own. You're seeing a lot more women in different roles. And we're seeing a lot more of that because it's about hiring the best person that's out there.

HC: What advice do you have for women, or minorities, that want to get into sports but maybe don't feel like they have a path?

EM: If that's what you want to do, pursue it. Don't let anybody stop you. Somebody may say no, a door may close, but it's not no forever, and there's going to be another opportunity. Obviously if somebody says no, it cuts deep, but it just means not right now. Know that you belong there just as much as the next person. At the end of the day, everybody puts their pants on the same way.

So, pursue what you want to do. Don't take no for an answer, do your research, be confident and go in knowing that you know that you can do the job. Treat people with respect, and you'll hopefully get that respect back. Nobody should ever tell you that you don't belong.

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Canada vs. Czechia

World Juniors Preview: Canada vs. Czechia

Tuesday, January 2 | 8:30 a.m. ET | Gothenburg, Sweden | Quarterfinal

January 01, 2024

GAME NOTES: CANADA VS. CZECHIA (JAN. 2)

Canada’s National Junior Team looks to start 2024 off on the right note when it takes on Czechia in a quarterfinal matchup Tuesday at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Last Game 

Canada doubled up Germany 6-3 to close out the preliminary round on Sunday, scoring three unanswered goals in the third period to break open a close game. Macklin Celebrini scored twice, and Owen Beck, Easton Cowan, Jordan Dumais and Brayden Yager chipped in with a goal apiece to help Canada clinch second place in Group A and end 2023 on a high note.

Czechia took down Switzerland 4-2 in its preliminary-round finale Sunday, wrapping up third place in Group B. Juri Kulich, Matyas Melovsky and Ondrej Becher had two points apiece, while Michael Hrabal stopped 17 of 19 shots in the win.

 
Last Meeting 

Canada took home the gold medal at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, downing Czechia 3-2 in overtime in an absolute thriller in Halifax. After the Canadians took a two-goal lead into the third period, Czechia scored twice in 54 seconds to tie the game and force an extra frame. Dylan Guenther was the hero for Canada, finishing a give-and-go with Joshua Roy for the golden goal 6:22 into the overtime.

What to Watch 

Macklin Celebrini. He’s been the talk of the town, and rightfully so. The 17-year-old continues to show his offensive prowess and why he’s so important to Canada. In all three preliminary-round wins for the Canadians, Celebrini found the scoresheet. He finished the preliminary round tied with American Gavin Brindley for second in tournament scoring with eight points, just one behind Slovakia’s Servac Petrovsky. Furthermore, the Vancouver native has seen his ice time increase and has moved up to the top line — in Canada’s win over Germany, Celebrini had 19:27 of ice time, the most for him so far this tournament, and ended the game with two goals and eight shots.

Jiri Kulich, Matyas Melovsky and Eduard Sale have powered the Czechs to the quarterfinals — Kulich (4-3—7) and Melovsky (0-7—7) finished the prelims with seven points apiece, while Sale (3-2—5) finished with five. While this may not be the same Czech team that Canada faced in the gold medal game a year ago, there are nearly a dozen returnees. The Czechs also have 11 players, currently playing in the CHL, including Adam Zidlicky (Mississauga, OHL), who is the son of former NHLer Marek Zidlicky. On a side note: Kulich is playing in his third World Juniors and set the Czech record for career goals (13) in the post-Czechoslovakia era on Sunday.

A Look Back 

Since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Canada and Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic) have faced each other 24 times at the World Juniors, with the Canadians claiming victory in 21 of those meetings.

This will be the third time the teams have met in the quarterfinals; Julien Gauthier scored twice in the third period as Canada pulled away for a 5-3 win in 2017, and Devon Levi posted a 29-save shutout in a 3-0 win inside the Edmonton bubble in 2021.

All-time record: Canada leads 21-2-2 (1-1 in OT/SO)
Canada goals: 118
Czechia goals: 45

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From disappointment to dream

Released from Canada’s National Junior Team one year ago, Jordan Dumais used the experience to dominate the QMJHL and wear the Maple Leaf in Sweden

Nicholas Pescod
|
December 31, 2023

Jordan Dumais remembers how he felt when learned he wouldn’t be suiting up for Team Canada at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship. 

“It was hard. I was very disappointed,” recalls Dumais. 

A star forward with the Halifax Mooseheads, Dumais, then 18, was among the 28 players invited to the National Junior Team selection camp in Moncton, with the opportunity to play in front of familiar fans in Halifax.

Coming into camp, Dumais was the leading scorer in the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) with 54 points in 25 games, and second only to Connor Bedard for most points in the entire Canadian Hockey League (CHL).

“I knew I was a younger guy. I knew my odds of making it were tough, but I thought I played pretty well at the camp,” says Dumais, who had a goal and an assist in one of the camp games against a team of U SPORTS all-stars.

Still, it wasn’t enough and Dumais was among five forwards sent home at the camp’s conclusion. 

“I went to the camp and did what I had to do, and it didn’t go my way,” says Dumais.

Fast-forward a year and things have very much gone the Montreal native’s way. He was once again invited to selection camp and instead of being sent home, he finds himself wearing the Maple Leaf in Sweden as a member of Canada’s National Junior Team.

“I came in this year with a bit of experience and played my game and it went my way this year,” says Dumais. “As a kid, it’s your dream. Honestly, just wearing the Canada logo every game is unbelievable.” 

Fueling a fire 

Dumais was tearing it up in the QMJHL well before he was released from Team Canada, but he took it to a whole new level when he returned to the Mooseheads after camp, and ended up having a historic season.

He put up points in his first eight games back, and was held off the scoresheet only six times in 40 games. His run included seven points (4-3—7) against Moncton on Feb. 19, and had six (2-4—6) on March 22 against Charlottetown.

In just 40 games after coming back from camp, Dumais recorded 86 points — he had 31 in the month of March alone — and finished the season with 140 points (54-86—140), breaking the Mooseheads’ single-season scoring record of 137. 

He took home a couple of big postseason honours, winning the Jean Beliveau Trophy as QMJHL leading scorer and the Michel Brière Trophy as QMJHL MVP. He was also named to the first all-star team in both the QMJHL and CHL.

Mooseheads and Team Canada teammate Jake Furlong says there was a change in Dumais after he came back from camp. 

“Especially after Christmas, I think he just had a little more motivation and little more grind. He wanted to prove people wrong, but also the people that believe in him right,” says Furlong, who has been teammates with Dumais in Halifax for four seasons. “He stayed the same off the ice and didn’t really change his demeanor, but on the ice, he really worked his butt off, and I think that showed in the second half.” 

Furlong also believes the fact the World Juniors took place in Halifax only added more fuel to the fire. 

“I think that probably played a factor into it. I mean, being from there and being with the Mooseheads and seeing the fans we get every night, World Juniors was a whole different level, and I am sure he wanted to make Mooseheads fans proud,” he says. 

Dumais admits not making Team Canada only motivated him to take his game to another level.

“Obviously, I wasn’t happy about not making it last year, but I did use it as motivation to get back this year.” 

Silencing critics

At just 5-foot-9, Dumais, a third-round pick (96th overall) of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2022 NHL Draft, has had to deal with those who have questioned his size and whether he could even play at a high level throughout his entire hockey career.

“I think I have been [doubted] my whole life. So, at this point, I do play my game and have always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I don’t think too much about it, but it is always there.” 

During the offseason, Dumais spent a considerable amount of time working on improving various areas of his game, whether it was becoming a better skater or spending time in the gym.

“I am always trying to work on my game where I can. I am aware of my flaws. I am smaller than the other guys, but I don’t really think too much about it. During the summer, I am always working on those things and trying to improve and get better.” 

Mooseheads head coach Jim Midgley says it was clear from the beginning of the year that Dumais wanted to make Canada’s National Junior Team, adding that the 19-year-old is an extremely competitive and driven individual who wants to win and be the best all the time. 

“Every drill we do in practice, he wants to be the best. He wants to win, he wants to be the fastest, he wants to be the best. He has a high battle level, but that is what I think makes Jordan special. He’s not the biggest guy, but for a smaller guy he has a lot of fight in him.”

That hard work and burning desire to be the best has paid off for Dumais, who came to selection camp with 47 points (16-31—47) in just 21 games with the Mooseheads. He sits five points behind QMJHL scoring leader Mathieu Cataford, despite having played 13 games less than Cataford and having not played for the Mooseheads since Dec. 8.

For the next week, the focus remains on Team Canada and the World Juniors, alongside Mooseheads teammates Furlong and Mathis Rousseau. It’s something Dumais says he’ll treasure for the rest of his life.

“It’s a great group of guys here. We have really good atmosphere in the room, you know, at the hotel, wherever we are, so that's been a lot of fun,” he says. “It’s a dream come true.”

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World Juniors Preview: Canada vs. Germany

Friday, December 31 | 1:30 p.m. ET | Gothenburg, Sweden | Preliminary Round

Nicholas Pescod
|
December 30, 2023

GAME NOTES: CANADA VS. GERMANY (DEC. 31)

Canada’s National Junior Team looks to rebound when it takes on Germany in its final preliminary-round game on New Year’s Eve at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Last Game 

Canada suffered its first loss of the tournament Friday when it fell 2-0 to Sweden in front of a capacity crowd that included more than 3,500 Canadian fans. Mathis Rousseau finished with 22 saves, including a couple of highlight-reel stops, and Macklin Celebrini had four shots on goal, but it wasn’t enough.

GER-LAT

Last Meeting 

You don’t have to look too far back in the pages of history. The last time these two played was just over a year ago in prelim play at the 2023 World Juniors in Halifax. Connor Bedard tied a Canadian record with seven points (3-4—7) and Dylan Guenther also recorded a hat trick in an 11-2 Canadian win.

What to Watch 

How about Mathis Rousseau? The 19-year-old undrafted Halifax Mooseheads netminder has put on a clinic. His massive save late in the first period against the Finns on Boxing Day ultimately led to a Canadian goal minutes. Against Sweden, Rousseau made a terrific skate-blade save that got the approval of The King himself, Henrik Lundqvist. He is currently second among goaltenders in goals-against average (1.33) and save percentage (.944).

The Germans don’t have an overly deep lineup, but they do have 19-year-old NHL prospect Julian Lutz (Arizona, 2022, 43rd overall), who has 23 points (10-13—23) in 19 games with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. They also have two players who skate in the QMJHL — 18-year-olds Julius Stumpf (Moncton Wildcats) and Norwin Panocha (Chicoutimi Saguenéens). Stumpf has 28 points in 30 games with the Wildcats, while Panocha (Buffalo, 2023,205th overall) has 11 points with Chicoutimi.

A Look Back 

When it comes to head-to-head history, Canada has won all 16 meetings since Germany’s reunification in 1991. If you go one step further and throw in games against West Germany from 1977-89, Canada boasts an impressive record of 26 wins from 27 meetings. Canada’s only blip was a 7-6 loss in the consolation round in 1981. The good news from that defeat? It indirectly contributed to the establishment of the Program of Excellence the following year.

All-time record: Canada leads 16-0-0
Canada goals: 101
Germany goals: 23

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World Juniors Preview: Canada vs. Sweden

Friday, December 29 | 1:30 p.m. ET | Gothenburg, Sweden | Preliminary Round

Nicholas Pescod
|
December 29, 2023

GAME NOTES: CANADA VS. SWEDEN (DEC. 29)

Canada’s National Junior Team looks to continue its winning ways when it faces off against host Sweden in a showdown of unbeaten teams atop Group A at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Last Game 

Canada blanked Latvia 10-0 on Tuesday to make it two wins in two days. Macklin Celebrini led the way with a goal and four assists, posting the 32nd five-point game in Canadian World Juniors history. Conor Geekie and Carson Rehkopf added two goals apiece and Mathis Rousseau made 22 saves to record the shutout.

For the Swedes, Otto Stenberg recorded a hat trick in a 5-0 victory over Germany on Thursday as the hosts improved to 2-0 in preliminary-round play and kept pace with Canada atop Group A. Mattias Havelid added a goal and an assist, and Melker Thelin needed to make just 15 saves for the shutout.

Last Meeting 

Canada came away with a 5-1 preliminary-round win over Sweden on New Year’s Eve in Halifax at the 2023 World Juniors. Brennan Othmann scored twice, Connor Bedard had four assists and Thomas Milic made 22 saves as Canada opened up a 3-0 lead in the first 12 minutes to wrap up second place in Group A.

What to Watch 

Macklin Celebrini. Who else? The 17-year-old Vancouver native was the star of the show in the win over Latvia, scoring a goal and adding four assists to take over the tournament scoring lead through two days (2-4—6). Celebrini has been simply dominant in the Maple Leaf; in his last eight games representing his country, dating back to the 2023 IIHF U18 World Championship in the spring, he has posted 21 points (8-13—21).

Sweden’s lineup is deep, featuring 18 NHL prospects, including nine taken in the first round of the last two drafts — Filip Bystedt (San Jose, 27th, 2022), David Edstrom (Vegas, 32nd, 2023), Jonathan Lekkerimäki (Vancouver, 15th, 2022), Theo Lindstein (St. Louis, 29th, 2023), Liam Öhgren (2022, 19th, Minnesota), Noah Östlund (2022, 16th, Buffalo), Axel Sandin Pellikka (Detroit, 17th, 2023), Stenberg (St. Louis, 25th, 2023) and Tom Willander (Vancouver, 11th, 2023).

A Look Back 

There is a long and deep history between Canada and Sweden that stretches all the way back to the inaugural World Juniors in 1977. In36 all-time meetings, Canada has been largely victorious, winning 25 games, which includes four for the gold medal – 1996, 2008, 2009 and 2018.

This will be just the fifth time the Canadians and Swedes have faced off in Sweden and the first since 2006 – Canada won that game 2-0 thanks to goals from Luc Bourdon and Brad Marchand. Canada holds a record of 3-1 when playing the Swedes on their ice.

All-time record: Canada leads 25-10-1 (2-1 in OT/SO)
Canada goals: 160
Sweden goals: 112

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Canada’s Owen Allard at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Never give up

Owen Allard wasn’t expected to make Canada’s National Junior Team, but hard work and dedication have brought him to Gothenburg for a chance to wear the Maple Leaf

Jonathan Yue
|
December 26, 2023

A look at Owen Allard’s hockey career so far reveals a résumé one might not expect to see from a member of Canada’s National Junior Team.

The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds forward was a seventh-round pick in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Priority Selection and has been passed over in consecutive NHL drafts. But that hasn’t stopped the Renfrew, Ontario, native from putting in the work and earning a spot on the Canadian roster at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“I laid it all on the line,” Allard says. “I thought I had a strong performance at [selection]camp, I did my thing and I had no regrets. I dreamed of playing at the World Juniors as a kid, so it’s a really special moment for myself, and my family and friends.”

Allard joins an select group of skaters (forwards and defencemen) to make Canada’s National Junior Team after going undrafted in back-to-back drafts, joining the likes of longtime NHLers Bob Bassen (1985) and Mike Keane (1987), Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Mark Recchi (1988) and the most recent player to add his name to the list, Brett Leason (2019).

(Leason ended up being the 56th overall pick by Washington in his third draft and is a constant presence in the Anaheim Ducks lineup this season.)

“It has been a crazy path,” Allard says. “I was a late-round draft pick in the OHL and really wasn't supposed to make the Soo Greyhounds as a 17-year-old. But, I went in there, did my thing and made the team. I think it is the same thing here. I wasn't really supposed to be invited, I mean I am undrafted in the NHL and I only played 14 games last season.”

That’s right… Allard forced his way into the Team Canada conversation despite playing only 14 games after suffering a torn labrum ahead of the 2022-23 season that required shoulder surgery. The recovery time meant Allard didn’t make his season debut until Feb. 23 and once again put his resilience, mentally and physically, to the test.

“I definitely put in the work to be here and to have an opportunity to be on this team,” Allard says. “[Before the injury], I thought I was going to have a big year, especially being passed over in the draft, but that goal collapsed after the injury and a lot of doubt went through my mind. I stayed positive and stuck with it, did the rehab and worked extremely hard to get back onto the ice. Everything happens for a reason, so everything happened last season so I can be here right now.”

Improving himself

While he may be representing his country for the first time, this won’t be Allard’s first experience on international ice. During the 2020-21 season that was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Allard crossed the pond to France, where his brother Sutton was getting into a few games in the Ligue Magnus, the country’s top league. Allard skated with the U17 and U20 teams with the Caen Drakkars recording 15 points in eight games.

“It was super beneficial for my development during those lockdown years,” Allard recalls. “I was still getting better, getting the reps, and being able to play on the bigger ice unlocked some new skills that I took back to make the Soo Greyhounds as an unexpected player at the following camp.”

As for advice from his journey so far? To never give up, something Allard lives by. At every stage of his career, he knew he could have hung up the skates and pursued something else, but he made sure to keep going.

“I’ve defied all odds and stuck with it,” Allard says. “It could have been really easy for me to quit hockey or even just not played, but I say just never give up and trust your abilities. You can always get better, just put the work in.”

Kyle Nishizaki has been Allard’s skills coach for the last 10 years in Ottawa, and knows first hand how much work he has put in during that time. Nishizaki says he is excited to see Allard get the opportunity to show what kind of person and player he is on the world stage.

“His energy is infectious,” Nishizaki says. “You see him on the ice and the work ethic that’s driven him and allowed him to make this team, but it’s the energy, his love for hockey, his teammates. He pushes everyone around him to be better.

As Allard hits the ice with Canada’s National Junior Team, his hard work so far has paid off, but there’s much more work to be done. The goal in Sweden is to make sure he makes the most of this experience and see what’s next for him in his hockey journey.

“It’s been rewarding,” Allard says. “For all the hard work I’ve put in, the sacrifice my family has made for me, it feels really good, and I think [Hockey Canada] saw something in my game that they needed in this tournament. Only a select few get to wear the Maple Leaf, so its a crazy feeling and I am going to do everything I can to help this team win."

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World Juniors Preview: Canada vs. Finland

Tuesday, December 26 | 8:30 a.m. ET | Gothenburg, Sweden | Preliminary Round

Nicholas Pescod
|
December 25, 2023

GAME NOTES: CANADA VS. FINLAND (DEC. 26)

Here we go. Canada’s National Junior Team kicks off its quest for a third-straight gold medal and 21st overall at the IIHF World Junior Championship with a Boxing Day matchup against Finland.

Last Game 

Canada is coming off an 6-5 pre-tournament overtime loss to the United States on Saturday in game that saw it erase a two-goal deficit in the third period. Macklin Celebrini scored twice and Owen Allard tied it midway through the final frame, while newcomer Jorian Donovan picked up an assist in his first game since joining Team Canada.

Finland is entering the World Juniors on a winning note after downing Czechia 4-1 on Thursday to finish off a perfect pre-tournament. Rasmus Kumpulainen, Arttu Kärki, Emil Hemming and Jani Nyman provided the offence for the Finns, who scored nine goals in their two exhibition contests.

Last Meeting 

Canada’s last meeting against the Finns was a pre-tournament game last year in Halifax. Connor Bedard scored twice, including the game-winner, and Brennan Othmann had a goal and assist, helping Canada to a 5-3 win.

The last time these two teams met during tournament play, however, was the gold medal game in August 2022. Canada won 3-2 in an overtime thriller that saw Kent Johnson score shortly after Mason McTavish saved the Canadians by swatting the puck out of mid-air before it crossed the goal line.


What to Watch
 

Macklin Celebrini, and rightfully so. The 17-year-old Vancouver native continues to be a threat every time he is on the ice. How good has he been? In three pre-tournament games, Celebrini put seven points (3-4—7), the most of any player. And let’s not forget the new guys. With Tristan Luneau and Tanner Molendyk ruled out, Donovan and Ty Nelson were officially added to the Canadian roster following the game against the Americans.

The Finns may not have Nashville Predators prospect Joakim Kemell available for his third World Juniors, but 11 players on the roster are NHL draftees. That number includes Seattle Kraken prospect Jani Nyman – the 19-year-old has netted 14 goals in 28 games for Ilves Tampere in the Liiga, Finland's top league, good for second among all active skaters.

A Look Back 

The Canadians and Finns have been frequent foes, facing off against each other 42 times at the World Juniors since 1977. Canada has the edge with a 27-9-6 (W-L-T) mark, but it has had trouble with Finland on Swedish ice – one-third of the Finns’ wins have come in the land of their Nordic neighbours.

The Canadians have won five of the last six meetings, including a 5-0 romp in the semifinals in 2020; Joel Hofer made 32 saves for the shutout, Alexis Lafrenière scored twice and Canada netted three goals in the first four minutes en route to the gold medal game and an eventual 18th World Juniors gold.

All-time record: Canada leads 26-9-6 (1-1 in OT)
Canada goals: 163
Finland goals: 105

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World Juniors Preview: Canada vs. United States

Saturday, December 23 | 12 p.m. ET | Kungsbacka, Sweden | Pre-Tournament

Nicholas Pescod
|
December 23, 2023

GAME NOTES: CANADA VS. UNITED STATES (DEC. 23)

Canada’s National Junior Team wraps up its pre-tournament schedule Saturday against the United States in the final tune-up ahead of the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship. 

Last Game
 

Canada is coming off a 6-3 pre-tournament win over Switzerland on Friday. Owen Beck scored twice, one of them shorthanded, Conor Geekie chipped in with a goal and a helper while Macklin Celebrini had two assists for the Canadians, who broke open a tie game with four unanswered goals in the second period before being ejected after he was given a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding. 

The United States’ last game saw it score five in a row to down Sweden 5-3 in pre-tournament action Thursday. Jimmy Snuggerud, Will Smith and Cutter Gauthier had three points each in the victory, while Trey Augustine stopped 14 of the 16 shots he faced. 

Last Meeting 

The last time these two teams met, Canada booked its ticket to the gold medal game at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, scoring six unanswered goals to down the United States 6-2. Joshua Roy had a two-goal night, Connor Bedard, Logan Stankoven, Adam Fantilli and Brandt Clarke each had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Milic put on a clinic in a 43-save effort. 


What to Watch
 

As the lone returnee from the team that won gold a year ago in the Maritimes, there are plenty of eyes on Owen Beck. But the Peterborough Petes sniper doesn’t appear to mind the attention; he was all over the ice against the Swiss, giving Canada the lead for good early in the second period before adding a highlight-reel shorthanded marker late in the middle frame. Beck has been terrific for the defending OHL champions, posting 16 goals and 30 points in 25 games.

The United States is a deep team and considered a perennial favourite for a few reasons. First, the U.S. has 10 first-round NHL draft picks, a list that includes the fourth overall pick in 2023 (Will Smith, San Jose) and fifth overall pick in 2022 (Cutter Gauthier, Philadelphia). Second, they’ve got Trey Augustine between the pipes. The 18-year-old Detroit Red Wings prospect is 11-3-2 with a .912 save percentage at Michigan State University this season. Third, the Americans are very familiar with each other — eight players are returnees from the team that won bronze in Halifax. 

A Look Back 

While Canada historically has had the upper hand against the United States, winning 34 of 49 meetings with three ties, things have been more even of late. The Canadians have split the last 10 meetings with the U.S. dating back to 2012.

Prior to the semifinal win last year, Canada’s previous victory over the Americans came in the 2020 World Juniors opener, when Alexis Lafrenière scored a late game-winner and added three assists in a 6-4 Boxing Day win

All-time record: Canada leads 34-12-3 (3-3 in OT/SO) 
Canada goals: 200 
United States goals: 136 

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For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

[email protected] 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

[email protected]

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

[email protected]

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Schedule
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Prague & Ostrava, Czechia
Date: May 10 to 26
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Edmonton, Alta., Canada
Date: Aug 3 to 10