Saturday, 13 March 2021

Very Little Scouting Time

THE FISU Universiade Games are scheduled to be played from December 11-21, 2021 this year in Lucerne, Switzerland, and that means that U SPORTS players will be heading to Europe during the exam break at Christmas. Secretary General and CEO of FISU Eric Saintrond made the announcement yesterday, and it certainly raised my eyebrows considering that U SPORTS hockey hasn't been played in over a year. Normally, Hockey Canada uses the summer evaluation camp that features a pile fo U SPORTS to determine who they want to take to as the nucleus of the Canadian squad, but that's going to be a tough selection with very little game action in any of the four conferences where they can base their selections.

According to the release, "six women's and ten men's teams will compete" in Lucerne and Zug at the at the Sursee Ice Centre and Bossard Arena Zug, respectively, during the 2021 Universiade. While there's nothing particularly overwhelming about that news, it should be noted that there will be an Estonian men's team competing for the first time ever in this event, marking a big step forward in the evolution of that country's hockey program. That's quite exciting as a hockey fan, and it will be interesting to see how they fare.

Again, though, the tough part is selecting the most competitive team for Canada to send for the women as they've had virtually zero competitive games since last March. At this point, I can't even begin to make guesses as to who would even be in Canada's mind as selections because there's no telling who may stay and who may leave their respective schools when it comes to playing hockey at the U SPORTS level. With this doubt hovering in the air, Hockey Canada will have some heavy lifting to do in watching hours of game play from September to November before announcing their final selections.

Having seen a number of Manitoba Bisons play at the Universiade over the years, I know the tournament is high-calibre and certainly a goal to play in for many university players. Alanna Sharman and Erica Rieder were the last Bisons player to play in the Universiade as they went in 2017 to Almaty, Kazakhstan where they won a silver medal, and both of them said it was an incredible experience to be able to wear the Hockey Canada logo and represent their country and school at the event.

There should be no surprises for the women's side as the same six teams will make up the field in Lucerne. China, Japan, and Switzerland are usually lesser opponents based on the university hockey programs they run, and Team USA is always Division-II and D-III players who make up their squad. Russia, though, has been sending over some pretty incredible teams made up of some players whose schooling should be questioned, but no one ever does.

The 2017 version that defeated Canada 4-1 featured players like Olga Sosina who was 25 and playing for Agidel Ufa in the Russian professional women's league, Lyudmila Belyakova who was 23 and playing with Tornado Dmitrov in the Russian professional women's league, and Anna Shokhina who was 20, but was the captain of Tornado Dmitrov. Personally, I don't think any of these women were truly attending university outside of a class here and there, but somehow they get to play in the University Olympics. Might I also add that they all play for Russia's national team. C'est la vie at FISU.

As we have seen in the past, Canada usually send over a heckuva squad, and I'd expect Hockey Canada to consider Saskatchewan goaltender Jessica Vance for a spot once again as she was part of the team in 2019. Vance was stellar in the Canadian nets in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, and Canada always needs good goaltending. Based on her body of work in Canada West, choosing Vance should be an easy call, but there could be others who Hockey Canada calls upon such as Kelsey Roberts of Calgary, Kirsten Chamberlin or Halle Oswald of Alberta, or Kaitlin Ross of Mount Royal.

Outside of goaltending, though, the roster is wide-open depending on who returns to their respective schools. I'm hoping Hockey Canada will put together some sort of summer camp for the U SPORTS hopefuls they want to take as they've done in the past, but we'll have to see how this whole pandemic affects that planning. Canada will go to Lucerne as they have committed, but the question might be more along the lines of chemistry depending on how often or not these players will get a chance to work together.

The 2021 FISA Universiade is a go for this year, though, so make sure you keep an eye on HBIC coming up in December as I'll be keeping an eye on that tournament with U SPORTS players playing!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: