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O’Leary excited for Hockey Canada opportunity

(Courtesy Marc Smith)  There’s plenty of Moose Jaw Warriors’ flavour on the ice in Calgary this weekend during the Hockey Canada Under-18 Summer Selection Camp, which gets underway on Friday.

17-year-olds Jett Woo and Luka Burzan are both vying for spots on the team as they look to represent their country once again on the international stage at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.

However, Warriors assistant coach Mark O’Leary is also getting his first taste of the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence as he takes part in the camp as a coach.

O’Leary will be serving as a camp coach, running the benches during the scrimmages and leading the players on the ice during the practices while the team’s staff evaluates the players from the stands.

“This is an opportunity as a camp coach to get you in the program and understand what Hockey Canada is looking for in short tournament events,” said O’Leary.  “It’s been great so far learning the Hockey Canada way.”

O’Leary is heading into his sixth season with the Warriors.  He decided to take a shot at being a part of the Hockey Canada program earlier this year, going through the interview process just before the Warriors open the 2017 WHL Playoffs.

“Obviously there’s a lot of people that want to work with Hockey Canada, whether it be the under-17, under-18 or under-20 level, so they go through and decide who’s going to be where,” he said.

Getting this opportunity, O’Leary hopes will lead to more chances to work inside the Hockey Canada program.

“Whatever experience I can gain only helps you obviously to add this to your resume when applying for different jobs within Hockey Canada next year, whether that be going into the under-17 program, there’s three teams there that need three coaches per team, so I’d love the opportunity to be on the staff for anyone of those teams, and if this is part of the process, I’m certainly willing to learn,” said O’Leary.

Warriors head coach Tim Hunter is heading into his second year as an assistant coach with Canada’s national junior team.  O’Leary said he’s been able to learn a lot from Hunter about coaching at the international level.

“He’s been a wealth of knowledge for me, we’ve talked a lot after his experience with the team last year about just the different camps and the things that you go through before you get to the tournament itself,” said O’Leary.  “The short tournament events are much different than a long season, you don’t have time to tiptoe and find your game, you have to find ways to hit the ground running and that’s what it’s all about.

“Being able to be around Tim as much as I am, it’s been a great resource and he’s been great to learn from.”

With a pair of Warriors on the ice for the camp as well, O’Leary said he’s looking forward to seeing what kind of shape that Woo and Burzan are in after the offseason.

“Obviously both of them come in as highly touted prospects since they’ve been 14-15 years old and this is something that they want a lot, so as a Warrior to watch those guys develop is exciting and talking to them and their trainers this summer, they’re putting in the work,” said O’Leary.

“I’m there to help all the kids, but selfishly for those two, anything I can do to help them I won’t hesitate and hopefully they find a little bit of a calming influence having a familiar face behind the bench and on the ice with them at practice.”

The Under-18 camp starts on Friday with practices and then there’s scrimmages on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before the team is selected.  Canada opens the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup on Aug. 7 in Slovakia.

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