As the ball hockey season begins for the Ridge Meadows Renegades next week, a group of elite players with the West Coast Express Ball Hockey Club is hitting the floor to get ready for competition in the Czech Republic.
Express head coach and program director Gary Slavin was a longtime president and executive member with the local association, and has recruited some of the top local U15 talent for the international tournament, set for June 10-12.
His assistant coach is Geoff Moffat who brings his son Cole, the goaltender will be Evvan Jonsen, and other players include Keegan Prophet, Brendan Chabot, Brandon McRobert, Eddie Riddell and Mitchell Shelton. Also playing is Slavin’s son Tyler, who has been on Team BC the past two years, and even though he is 13 has been playing U15 for two year already.
“We’ve got a good core of Ridge Meadows kids,” said the coach.
He has a team of 20 players from across the Lower Mainland, and they are hand-picked elite-level players.
They will play in the Plzen Challenge Cup. It’s an event that showcases the best ball hockey teams from around the world, but it will be Canada’s first time attending the event. Their schedule will see the Expess play the host team from Plzen, and other teams from Slovakia, Germany, Poland, Austria and Switzerland.
It will be a marathon, with the team playing six games in three days. Anybody who has played ball hockey knows that it demands more fitness than ice hockey. Without the glide of skates, an arena is a big playing surface, and the tournament will be held on NHL-sized rinks, with each game being three full 20-minute stop-time periods.
“The kids who excel at ball hockey are a lot of soccer players and basketball players,” said Slavin. “They’ve got the foot speed and the footwork.”
He expects the Canadians to do well, but the Canadian game has been successfully imitated by other international teams.
“They’ve adapted their game to our style,” he said. “We’ve been falling behind a bit in the last few years.
“But I expect to be in the top three, and shooting for gold.”
There will be a large contingent of parents, and the entire delegation will be 58 people, including the 20 players. Many are making it a family holiday. But for Slavin, after two days of sightseeing in Prague, his focus is on the game.
“For me and the players, our goal is to win gold. But the families look at it as a trip, and they extend their time for a vacation.
They begin practicing in April, and on May 14 will play an exhibition game at 2:45 at Renegade Rink (the curling rink).