(Marc Smith/DiscoverMooseJaw) Three Moose Jaw Warriors had the opportunity to show what they can do against the best in the world over the past week at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Sweden.
Brayden Tracey and Daemon Hunt helped Canada to a fourth-place finish, while Yegor Buyalski and Belarus put together a great run that ended in the quarterfinals and a fifth-place finish.
“It was surreal, anytime that you can wear your country’s logo on your chest, it’s going to be something pretty cool,” said Tracey. “It’s something that I’ll always remember.”
Canada heads into every tournament with golden aspirations, but they fell short of that goal, losing 5-2 to the United States in the bronze medal game on Sunday.
“Going into that semi-final against Sweden, we had it going and we were extremely confident, so it’s unfortunate,” said Hunt.
Tracey was a key player for Canada throughout the tournament, posting four goals and seven points over seven games.
The Warriors rookie forward played on a line with Kamloops Blazers forward Connor Zary and Sarnia Sting forward Jamieson Rees. They ended up accounting for 10 of Canada’s 37 goals at the tournament.
“It was good to produce offensively and fill my role in as I went,” said Tracey. “Our line got connected right away, Zary I roomed with him here and Rees, we knew from before, so the connection we had was pretty cool and it was one of the best times every wearing the jersey. Those two helped me a lot and we all learned from each other.”
Hunt finished the tournament with one assist. The 16-year-old defenceman said there’s a lot that he will be taking away from the experience.
“This is something that is a huge milestone in my career, making it as an underage, I can’t thank Hockey Canada enough for the opportunity,” said Hunt. “I’ve created so many memories and friendships, it’s been the experience of a lifetime.”
Hunt was one of just two underage players on Team Canada, along with Erie Otters defenceman Jamie Drysdale. He said it took him a bit to adjust to the speed and skill of this level of hockey, as well as the bigger ice surface.
“It changes the game so much and it took a bit to get used to, but we learned from it and had a lot of fun as well,” said Hunt.
“Being an under-ager here, learning how to play like a professional every day and coming to the rink as a professional, I’ve gotten a taste of that back in Moose Jaw, but Hockey Canada does such a fantastic job with the way they push the professionalism.”
Tracey said he was very impressed with how Hunt handled himself over the course of the tournament.
“He knew his role was and he did that pretty well, and he’s going to learn from it, he’s going to come back next year with his own age group and be one of the top guys here,” said Tracey.
Buyalski was one of the top scores for Belarus, finishing with two goals and four points in five games. Belarus lost out 6-0 to Russia in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
“He was a big part of an upstart Belarus team that surprised some people early in the tournament,” said Warriors GM Alan Millar, who led Canada’s management group at the tournament. “Yegor played in their top-six, got some power play time and it was a really good experience for Yegor.”
For Hunt and Buyalski, their focus now turns to next season with the Warriors, but for Tracey, he will turn his attention to the 2019 NHL Draft in June.
The Calgary product is ranked 21st among North American skaters and no doubt helped out his draft stock with his performance at the tournament.
“It’s something that you’ve been waiting for your whole life, so it’s pretty cool to be on the list and be around all the [draft-eligible] guys here and it’s something that I need to learn from and get better,” said Tracey.
The NHL Draft will be held June 21-22 in Vancouver.