Almaty 2017: Canada Men’s Hockey Preview

The Canadian men’s hockey entry at this year’s FISU Winter Universiade is headed to Almaty, Kazakhstan with one goal in mind: a gold medal.

“The expectation any time you represent Canada in hockey is a gold medal,” said Queen’s University’s Brett Gibson, the architect of the 2017 edition of Team Canada. “We built this team on speed, discipline and character, and if you look at the 22-man roster, each player exudes those (qualities).”

The team is indeed a ‘who’s who’ of OUA men’s hockey; Carleton’s efficient top line of Mike McNamee, Ryan Van Stralen and Brett Welychka is present, while veteran Kevin Bailie (Queen’s) and sophomore Sebastien Auger (UQTR) will hold down the duties in net.

Joining Gibson behind the bench are Marty Johnston (Carleton), Craig Duncanson (Laurentian) and Brian Bourque (Waterloo).

“It was obvious in December camp that everybody is excited to represent Canada,” said Johnston, a former OUA Coach of the Year in 2014-15. “I’ve never had the opportunity to represent Canada, regardless of if it’s behind the bench or in the sweater — it should be a real thrill.”

Canada will open its tournament next Monday with its toughest test of the group stage against the United States (8:30 a.m. EST), before games against Great Britain (Wed., Feb. 1, 5 a.m. EST) and Slovakia (Fri., Feb. 3, 2:30 a.m.).

So, what can you expect from a tournament filled with so many unknowns?

The Canada West-based Canada squad of the 2015 Winter Universiade finished with a bronze medal, having romped through the group stage undefeated and plus-23 only to slump to a semi-final shootout loss to eventual champions Russia.

A Unique Tournament

One thing to note about the Universiade’s men’s hockey tournament is its non-traditional powers; two-time silver-medallist (2013, 2015) Kazakhstan regularly rosters professional players, while countries like Belarus and Ukraine have also finished on the podium. Countries like Sweden and the United States, traditional hockey powers, have struggled—neither has medalled since 1972.

Russia will once again be a team to watch, having won five of the seven gold medals since 2003. The Russians often dress a team full of professionals that happen to be simultaneously studying at their local university; former Yaroslavl farm hand Sergey Belov and current KHLer Sergey Barbashev played integral roles in their country’s triumph at Granada 2015.

Scouting the Group

United States roster) — The American entry is somewhat of a wildcard. In theory, the U.S. should be the #2 team in Canada’s group, but USA Hockey has opted to send a team of ACHA (club hockey) players. There is definitely some talent on the roster, but whether the US will be able to roll four lines and keep pace with the faster, stronger Canadians in the opening game of the tournament will be interesting.

Great Britain (roster) — To put it frankly, the British will be lucky to avoid being whitewashed in all three games at Almaty 2017. Luke Branin is an interesting name on the roster; the forward is listed as a German-American but will for some reason be competing for the UK. Head coach Matt Bradbury’s young squad—a number of players are just 19 years old—will have it all to do to avoid an embarrassment.

Slovakia (roster not available) — The Slovaks gave a decent account of themselves in Granada at the last Universiade, winning two of three group-stage games before bowing out in the quarters with a 7-0 walloping at the hands of eventual champion Russia. If the presence and performances of Marek Marusiak and Peter Gapa at Granada 2015 were any indication, the Slovaks could have some pro-level talent in the lineup in Kazakhstan.