Merry Christmas to everyone in the KIJHL. Christmas is almost here, that means the World Junior Championships are too. This great International Ice Hockey Federation tournament, hosted by Sweden, is the focus of this week’s KIJHL Notebook. We’ve connected with a player from each division and asked them to share their thoughts on the WJC.
Born in Los Angeles, Calif., Oleg Bitus of the Columbia Valley Rockies said watching the U.S. compete is “so amazing.” Growing up, he always wanted to represent his country.
“I always enjoy watching them,” said Bitus, whose parents are from Belarus. “The players are young and there is so much talent. I look forward to the goal scoring on both sides. In the bronze medal game last year against Sweden, the U.S. won 8-7 in overtime. It was just back-to-back and I like the unpredictability of the games.”
Bitus added that the tournament is special to watch because it highlights the future of the game, especially the draft eligible players.
Beaver Valley Nitehawks captain Kaleb Percival loves that the tournament starts around Christmas and he watches with his older brother Nolan, a KIJHL alum (Nelson/Beaver Valley – 2013-18).
“It’s a time where we both get to sit down and cheer on the Canadians,” he said. “Honestly, it’s the best time of the year – my favourite. There is so much skill, it’s fast hockey. The whole family will get together for the gold medal game. Hopefully our boys are in it. If not, we still watch.”
Percival believes the reason people love watching is because it’s kids trying to make it. And while Canada has been dominant, he loves seeing what the European teams can do.
“It’s such a competitive tournament. Especially of late, seeing teams like Czechia and the Slovaks having better teams and being more competitive,” said Percival. “It’s super fun to watch. It’s hard not to cheer for those guys too.”
Percival has also watched games with his Nitehawks teammates in the past. Since he’s been with the organization, they have always had at least one American player. This year they have Jake Geronazzo and Adam Redding.
“It has been a bit of a topic in our room. Picking a side. It is a little fun competition that we have watching those games, especially if Canada is playing the U.S.”
Last year Percival enjoyed watching Logan Stankoven, who he played against at the Midget level.
“He was always the guy for my age group setting the standard,” said Percival. “Watching him go from Midget to the WHL, and knowing he was going to end up there and watching him be successful, was really cool.”
Kelowna Chiefs forward Joseph Melichar is from Hradec Kralove, Czechia and he loves watching his country compete with Canada and the U.S., especially the players using their skating ability to keep pace with the North American sides.
“I’m definitely looking forward to watching lots of plays,” he said. “We have a bunch of skilled guys and it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Melichar noted that Czechia’s program has improved a lot over the years, adding to his excitement to watch.
In past tournaments, Melichar has known players who represented Czechia and it could happen again in this tournament, depending on the final roster.
“It’s definitely interesting to watch players that I used to grow up with playing,” he said. “They got way better and I still stay in touch with all of them. I think it’s going to be really exciting.”
“Watching the World Juniors growing up is a tradition in my house,” said Alex Dunnett, who grew up in Sicamous and in his second season as an Eagle. “As soon as Boxing Day came around, we always woke up early and started watching. It didn’t really matter if it was always Team Canada or not. It’s always good to see young talent, people I could strive to try and be like.”
Dunnett said it’s “the atmosphere that’s awesome to watch.”
He talked about watching what those players do and trying to implement it into his play.
“You see a ton of talent in the World Juniors. A ton of future NHLers. It’s always good to watch it, especially as a young kid.”