Forward Matthew Wood, seen practising on March 30. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)
It is the biggest bag of mixed emotions in junior hockey. One of the consolations of missing the playoffs for top junior players is the chance to be selected to play for Canada in the IIHF Under-18 world championship tournament, held annually in the spring in the midst of the club post-season in North America.
That’s the perk for star forward Matthew Wood following the elimination of the Victoria Grizzlies in the first round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs. He leaves for Europe today for the U-18 worlds, which run from Saturday through May 1 in Landshut and Kaufbeuren, Germany.
“Obviously, I would rather still be in the playoffs with my Grizzlies teammates, but this is not the worst thing in the world to have happen,” Wood said of his selection to the Canadian team.
“It’s an honour anytime you are selected to put on the Maple Leaf jersey.”
This is the second time for Wood after recording four goals and eight points for runner-up Team Canada Red in the Capital City Challenge U-17 tournament in December in Ottawa.
It was part of a stellar freshman junior season in which Wood won the BCHL goals and points titles to be named a finalist for both the league MVP and rookie awards while propelling his profile to where he is being projected as a top-10 pick for the 2023 NHL draft. Not that he’s resting on laurels.
“I feel I still have a lot to work on in getting stronger, faster and more explosive,” said Wood.
Now the Nanaimo product will take that development quest overseas to the international level.
“European players are super- fast and really good. And the wider rink size in Europe will give them more time and space for their style of play,” Wood said of the task ahead in Germany.
“We want to win the world tournament. Anytime you put on the Canada jersey you want to make people proud.”
Wood and Canada open the U-18 worlds in group play with the North American derby against the United States on Saturday, and meet host Germany on April 24 and Czechia on April 26. The medal rounds follow. TSN will broadcast select games with details to be announced.
Former NHLer Nolan Baumgartner, assistant coach for Canada in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, is coaching the Canada U-18 team.
The Canadian roster is being filled out as CHL and Junior A clubs across the country are being eliminated in their playoffs. The NCAA season is over and those players are also available for selection.
Canada has won four gold medals since 2002 at the U-18 worlds, in 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2021. Canada took silver in 2005 and bronze in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
The 2022 tournament is down from the normal 10 teams to eight as Russia and Belarus have had invitations withdrawn, suspended by the IIHF from participation in all competitions until further notice, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.