Fifteen years ago in November, the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League assembled a team of its best players to play Team Canada East in a pre-tournament match-up in advance of the 2007 World Junior A Hockey Challenge co-hosted by Trail and Nelson.
The coaching staff for the KIJHL All-Stars was led by Nelson Leafs Head Coach Simon Wheeldon, who had current KIJHL Head Coaches Brad Fox (Chase Heat) and Dale Hladun (100 Mile House Wranglers) with him on the bench as well as Blake Wesley, who coached the Summerland Sting at the time. Fox and Hladun coached the Revelstoke Grizzlies and Princeton Posse, respectively, at the time.
The coaching staff for the KIJHL All-Stars constructed a team that represented the league as well as possible, but a group that could play at that level. The final score was 4-1 for Team Canada East in Nelson.
Despite outshooting the KIJHL All-Stars 16-1 in the first period, all Canada East could muster was a power play goal by Stouffville Spirit forward James McIntosh to take a 1-0 lead after the first period, as reported in a Hockey Canada story on their website.
“I knew I was going to get a lot of shots in the beginning of the game,” said KIJHLAll-Star netminder Wade Waters, who played for the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.
“They’re a team of Junior A All-Stars from all over Eastern Canada. I know our team was good and we could play solid defensive hockey to stay with them.”
The KIJHL All-Stars started to gain some momentum in the second frame, and were unfortunate not to score at least one goal. In the third, Canada East took a 2-0 lead when Adam Brace of the Pembroke Lumber Kings snapped a quick shot past Andrew Walsh.
Just over a minute later, the KIJHL All-Stars cut the margin to 2-1 as Nelson Leafs defenceman Torin Brusven poked a loose puck past Canada East goalie Kori Coelho.
“As the game progressed we found out who we were playing with and became more comfortable,” said Nelson Leaf captain Jeremy Van Troyen, who also captained the KIJHL All-Stars.
“It’s never easy jumping in with new guys. So once we got to know each other it helped out a lot.”
But the comeback was short-lived as perhaps one of the better players on the ice for Canada East, Corey Trivino of the Stouffville Spirit, snapped home a quick shot from the slot to restore the two-goal lead.
Brace, with his second of the game, concluded the scoring by shooting a long shot into the empty net as the KIJHL pressed to tie the game.
“I think they were surprised at actually how well we came out and competed with them all game,” said Van Troyen, impressed with the way the KIJHL frustrated Canada East for most of the contest despite being outshot 40-22.
The KIJHL spoke with Wheeldon about that game to reflect on that experience and how it helped the league. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
KIJHL: How did you feel the group played against Canada East?
SW: I thought they played great. For putting a team together on two days practice, and bringing them all in from all over the Interior, they really represented the league well. Keeping in mind we are playing Team Canada East, who finished second that year. Hockey Canada put together a team made up of the best Junior A players from Eastern Canada. We definitely weren’t walked over by any means.
KIJHL: When it came to getting ready for this exhibition game against Canada East, how much time was there to put this team together?
SW: It was probably a couple of months. Hockey Canada asked us if we were willing to put a team together so we had to go through the process of talking with the league and finding a weekend where there were a few days off and no teams were playing. It was super exciting when Hockey Canada asked us to put a team against them. After two months and a couple weeks of logistically making it work, we put it together and it was a wonderful event for those kids.
KIJHL: How was the team assembled?
SW: We tried to represent most teams in the league, if not all. By that time, I knew most of the coaches and got some input as then, we only saw teams outside of our division twice a year. We put together a roster of players who were potentially having good years that could do a good showing. We weren’t trying to showcase any young players, we wanted to showcase our league and by doing that, we tried to assemble the best team possible.
KIJHL: Talk about the performance of goalie Wade Waters.
SW: He was great. We know we’re going to give up lots of shots and Wade was one of the best goalies in the league and he played terrific. Once we realized, hey they only scored one goal in a period, we’ve got a little opportunity here. It was outstanding to see.
KIJHL: When Torin Brusven scored, what did that do for the team?
SW: They were thrilled. They actually thought you know, we can play with these guys. We had a lot of other chances. When I talked to the Team Canada coaches at the end of the game, they said that was a great tune up match. They were really impressed and that’s the true goal of what we were doing. We really appreciated that.
KIJHL: Did the performance by the team really help the league stand out to people to consider to play in?
SW: Absolutely. I had already been coaching for four years and I was a big believer in our league. What an opportunity to showcase our league. It put the league into a lot of people’s minds.
KIJHL ALL-STAR Roster:
Nelson – Torin Brusven, Jeremy Van Troyen, Riley Loyst / Beaver Valley – Layne Stopanski/ Castlegar – Eric Rockney, Darren Tarasoff
Chase – Cody Inkster, Jayson Reardon / Creston – Wade Waters (G)/
Fernie – Scott Traverse, Cody Reinhold / Kamloops – Jassi Sangha, Cody Lockwood / Kimberley – Tommy Latouche-Gauvin
Princeton – Brad Goss, Andrew Walsh (G) / Revelstoke: Scott Kaarwandy
Summerland – Dustin Johnston, Adam Knopp / Spokane – Brett Kellog
Reserves: Mitch Labreche [Summerland], Brett Björkman [Columbia Valley], Wade Walsh [Spokane], Steve Koskey [Beaver Valley]