Cornwall, Ont. welcomes international hockey players as puck drops on World Junior A Challenge


An international hockey tournament kicks off in eastern Ontario this weekend, as young players from across the country and around the world get ready to showcase their talent.

Team Canada West hit the ice at the Cornwall Civic Complex on Thursday, just hours after the final roster was announced.

They are preparing to bring their best when the World Junior “A” Challenge kicks off on Sunday.

“It was quite the process, started back from a few months ago,” said Rob Sklaruk, Team Canada West Director of Operations. “Hiring the coaches, naming our team, and getting here on Monday morning turned into a three-day short mini camp getting down the numbers from Wednesday.”

Five teams from across the world will play in the weeklong tournament, including Sweden, Latvia, USA, Team Canada East and Team Canada West.

Flags of Canada, USA, Sweden, and Latvia hang from the rafters at the Cornwall Civic Complex in Cornwall, Ont. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

“We’re all pumped up and we’re looking to come out competitive and we’re looking to come out to win,” said Team USA defenceman Sam Rinzel, who plays for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL.

As other players from Team USA took in Team Canada West practice, Rinzel remembers the moment he made the team.

“Your coach calling you into the office and tells you, it’s always an unbelievable experience,” he said. “I kind of look forward to it and to be able to put on the jersey, it’s always an honour. It’s so cool.”

“Any short-term competitions, everybody’s competitive,” added Sklaruk. “Everybody wants to show off their league and show well and do well and hopefully come home with a national title.”

Players have been chosen from Junior “A” leagues across the country, with some local talent chosen for the final Team Canada East roster.

They include four forwards from the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) – Landon Brownlee of the Hawesbury Hawks, Massimo Gentile from the Ottawa Junior Senators, Ty Campbell of the Smiths Falls Bears and Joseph Ianniello of the Navan Grads.

This tournament has been on hold since 2020. Cornwall Mayor Justin Towndale is excited to get it underway.

Team Canada West players take part in a practice at the Cornwall Civic Complex Dec. 8, 2022, ahead of the puck drop on the World Junior A Challenge. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

“There’s a lot of preparation that goes into this,” he said. “I think our staff with the city have done a fantastic job in the background, making it happen. First of all, bringing it to the city, maintaining faith throughout those three years, and then bringing it all together.”

Major upgrades have also been made to the Cornwall Civic Complex recently, refreshing the seats, lighting, audio system and scoreboard.

“There’s a Canada versus Canada game, Canada east versus Canada west, so there’s going to be some great competition and some old rivalries that are stoked during this tournament. I think it’s going to be great fun for everybody,” Towndale said.

Ambassadors from Latvia and Sweden are expected to watch the action, as well as scouts from other hockey leagues, including the OHL and NHL.

“You’re going to see the next generation of hockey players from Canada, USA and other countries, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you see them not only in the Olympics, but in the NHL in the near future,” said Towndale.

“It’s good exposure for the guys,” said Sklaruk. “I think the guys are pumped and ready to go, like their game, experience, which is awesome and is all part of it.”

The tournament runs all week at the Cornwall Civic Complex with afternoon and evening games.

Tickets start at under $20 and the gold medal game is scheduled for Dec. 18.

When asked for a prediction on if it will be a Team USA versus Team Canada final, Rinzel smiled.

“It’s hard to tell from here,” he said. “But you know we’re looking to win!”

The full schedule and ticket information can be found on the Hockey Canada website

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