BY MEAGAN MACEACHERN SEP 10, 2019
There was Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiac representation at the Junior World Cup.
Rick Swan, head coach for the local Jr. A team, led the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) team to silver in the worldwide competition that took place in Sochi, Russia Aug. 23 to 31.
Along with four Pontiac players, Swan jumped on a jet and made the trip overseas, where he was head coach of the team representing Canada.
?We did ourselves proud, and it was a great testament to the group that we had,? he exclaimed.
After defeating teams from Sweden, Switzerland, and Finland, Team AJHL found themselves headed to the gold medal game against Russia.
?There were eight countries in total and we were in a pool with Switzerland, Sweden, and Russia, but only the top two teams advanced to the medal round? We ended up beating Finland (in the semi-final) 5-1, and then had an opportunity to go for a gold medal,? detailed Swan. ?I think we forced Russia with a powerful team, they had to earn it. We gained the respect of our league for sure, and a respect for Jr. A hockey in general.?
Pontiac Marc Benoit hit the ice as a left and right winger. He said even though they were up against some of the top junior league players in the world, the Canadian team held their own.
?I learned that the AJHL is pretty good, because we played against teams that were similar to major junior teams and we still went to the final even though everyone thought we would lose in the semi-final against Finland.?
He added, ?It was really nice to be able to prove people wrong.?
With Team Russia consisting of pro junior-level players, and some that outside of the tournament sport Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) jerseys, the Alberta team knew they had a tough final ahead of them.
?They had six or seven NHL draft picks too, so it was a really good experience for us AJHL players to play against elite players from other countries,? Benoit noted.
In the end, the AJHL fell to their Russian counterparts 3-0.
Swan said regardless of the result of the matchup, he was proud of what the AJHL was able to prove in the rink.
?I think it speaks well to our program. I think it was deserving. We wanted to make sure that if we?re taking 22 kids over to Russia, we wanted to make sure they were of the character that they were able to buy-in not only the way we wanted them and needed them to play, but also ensure they would understand that privilege and the importance of leaving the right impression both on and off the ice,? exclaimed Swan.
He continued, ?Our guys were first class. I was so proud of them because not only did they represent our team extremely well with what they did on the ice, they were leaders and exceptionally respectful young men that really reflected the way we wanted that group to act.?
When it came to how his Pontiac players performed, Swan couldn?t have been happier.
Joining Benoit from the local Jr. A team on the ice was Daine Dumais, Jeremy Gervais, and Josh Kroon.
?Daine and Jeremy, as 20-year-olds, along with Marc Benoit, they were powerplay guys, they killed penalities. They played important roles five-on-five. Josh Kroon we just acquired over the summer. He exceeded my expectations and that?s the first time I had the chance to work with him and he is an outstanding young man as well as a really good hockey player,? Swan described. ?Just to be involved with those guys allowed me to be able to relay a little bit of the philosophy we have in Bonnyville.?
Benoit described himself as fortunate to have the chance take part in the international tournament.
?It?s an honour being able to represent our country, not only the AJHL, but Canada as well.?
The trip wasn?t all about hockey. In fact, teams received the royal treatment with tours of the Kremlin and Red Square. They even spent a few days at a resort just off the shores of the Black Sea.
?Aside from the language, which was the biggest thing, I think there was a real sense of privilege to be involved, and there was a real sense of it being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and maybe a one-off opportunity for the AJHL to go,? noted Swan.
Even though he got to see some spectacular sites, Benoit still felt the hockey was the highlight.
?It would 100 per cent be the tournament and Sochi. It was just a great experience to be able to play in such a nice place,? he described.
Swan said, ?I feel very humbled and privileged that the organization would give me and our players the opportunity to go and support the Canada representative. Ultimately what these things do is allow me to work with exceptional people and allow me to step out of my comfort zone so I get better.?