Kootenay Ice forward Collin Shirley will be off to Quebec to compete for Team West in the World U17 Hockey Challenge over the Christmas break.
Shirley, 16, is representing the Kootenay Ice for the second straight year, as Jon Martin, Spencer Wand (now retired), Sam Reinhart and Jaedon Descheneau competed in the same tournament last year.
The young rookie found out about making the roster when his family got an email back home in Saskatoon.
“It’s pretty exciting, I guess I didn’t really know if I made it so my mom gave me a call and I was pretty excited,” said Shirley.
“…It was one of my goals after playing U16, the next step was obviously here, and U17, so I’m really excited and happy to be there.”
The World U17 Hockey Challenge is a 10-team international tournament featuring five regions in Canada (Pacific, West, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic) along with squads from Finland, Russia, United States, Sweden and Slovakia.
Team West is usually in tough during the event, with a bronze medal being their highest finish in the last five years.
High level hockey can be a small fraternity, and five other players on the roster hail from Saskatoon, which will add some familiarity as Shirley noted he knows a couple of his teammates.
“It’ll be good to see them, catch up and stuff, so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Shirley joins 13 other WHLers on the roster, which is coached by Don MacGillivray, who leads the Winnipeg Blues in the MJHL.
Being thrown into the mix of all that kind of talent is nothing new to Shirley.
“We have a few practices beforehand, so we’ll figure things out,” said Shirley. “But everything, you kind of gotta go into it and work with what you got. Hopefully we’ll gel pretty quick and we’ll see how it goes.”
Martin was one of four Ice players to participate in the tournament last year as he suited up for Team West as well, which finished at the bottom of a strong pool that included the United States, Russia and Team Pacific.
“It was great,” said Martin. “It was a fun time against all those other countries and some of the best hockey at that age group.”
While teams win or lose based on their ability to come together, the international event is also a good measuring stick to see how individuals stack against each other, added Martin.
“It was good to see where you were at and to see how other countries play—it was great,” he said.
Also participating in the tournament is Cranbrook native Payton Lee, a goaltender who plays for the Vancouver Giants. Lee, 16, is a highly touted prospect who will man the crease for Team Pacific during the event. Lee, who started the season in the PIJHL, is embroiled in a three-way battle for starting duties with the Vancouver Giants.
WHL NOTES: Prince George Cougars captain Brock Hirsche has retired following season-ending shoulder surgery. Hirsche, 20, was limited to just eight games last year while struggling through another injury, and only suited up for 18 contests this season.