(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, Brandon Sun) — Braden Schneider can’t wait to hit the ice.
The 16-year-old Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman from Prince Albert, Sask., will play with Team Canada in the newly renamed Hlinka Gretzky Cup when the under-18 tournament begins on Monday.
“I’m ready to go,” Schneider said.
Edmonton’s Rogers Place will host Pool A, which includes Canada, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland, with the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and the United States in Pool B playing in Red Deer’s Servus Arena.
The semifinals and medal games will be played in Edmonton.
There will be a total of 18 preliminary round and playoff games played during the entire six-day event.
Schneider is one of seven defencemen named to Canada’s roster, which was unveiled earlier this week following a camp featuring 44 players. He said it was a relief to be named to the 22-man squad.
“There were a lot of good D-men who were trying to make the spot that I was trying to make,” Schneider said. “It was really tough. There was a lot of competition. It was really intense and super fun. I think they got it pretty good.”
In recent years, Wheat Kings Nolan Patrick, Tanner Kaspick and Kale Clague won gold with the under-18 team in 2015, and Stelio Mattheos finished fifth in 2016.
Brandonite Calen Addison won gold with the team in 2017.
Schneider thinks this year’s team has the ability to repeat as champs in the best-on-best tournament.
“I think our best asset is our depth,” Schneider said. “With all seven D we have a lot of depth and I think that we can battle with any other team for sure.”
Canada has won gold 21 times in the last 27 years.
Schneider already knew most of his teammates from last year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, when he scored once and adding an assist for Team White, and also from previous Hockey Canada camps.
He added that’s helped the squad to come together quickly.
“It’s easy coming into camp because there are familiar faces and I think it made the group meshing a little bit easier,” Schneider said. “It should be good.”
The tournament will have some unique rules.
If a defensive player or goaltender unintentionally knocks the net off, that team can’t change players for the ensuing faceoff.
And when a team earns a power play, it chooses which circle the ensuing faceoff will occur in, regardless of where the penalty was called.
Schneider said he’s looking forward to the experience.
“I’m going in with an open mind and I’m going to work my hardest,” Schneider said. “I think everyone is on the same page with that and we’ll have the same success as in the past.”
Schneider played 66 games as a rookie with the Wheat Kings last season, scoring once and adding 21 assists while playing on the team’s top pairing with Schael Higson. He took 16 penalty minutes.
“With everything that I learned from the Wheat Kings last year and everything with Hockey Canada, taking all that in and playing with compete and the structure that they’ve given us, I think if we do all that, we can do anything here,” Schneider said.
Schneider is one of just three players on the team who won’t be eligible for the 2019 National Hockey League draft because his birthday falls after the Sept. 15 deadline.
Alexis Lafrenière of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rimouski Oceanic and Dylan Holloway, a college-committed player who spent last season with the Olds Grizzlies of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, are the others.
All three will be undoubtedly be picked in the 2020 NHL draft.
After the tournament ends, Schneider is eager to begin his second Western Hockey League season with the Wheat Kings when main camp begins on Aug. 31.
“I can’t wait to come back to Brandon,” he said.