It’s always difficult when you lose 3 players for any period of time during a hockey season. Usually it’s because of injury. But for the past couple of years the Sherwood Park Crusaders have had to deal with at least a player being absent for the first week of November. 2011, Peter Quenneville, 2012, Josh Healey and this year, in 2013, Nicholas Jones, Andrew Taverner and Tommy Nixon missed action.
Not because of injury, but due to the fact they were representing their country at the World Junior A Challenge in Yartmouth, Nova Scotia.
The trio suited up for Team Canada West, a team that had 11 AJHL players and who was Head Coached by the boss of one of the Crusaders rivals, Jason McKee of the Spruce Grove Saints.
“[Jason] is a really great coach, lots of great systems and that’s what it came down to when we went up against the other countries. Commitment to system play was the difference in the games.” Said Andrew Taverner of the adjustment he and others had to make to play for Team Canada West.
Taverner finished with 2 points in the tournament, 1 goal and 1 assist in 4 games.
Team Canada West went 2 and 0 in the round robin with wins coming against Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
“We had a really close game against the Swiss, and it was a really tough game. But once we got out of that one it was as if we knew we were going to beat the Czechs. We were so excited that we had a win under our belt.” Taverner added.
And win they did, a 4-1 rout of the Czech Republic got Team Canada West a bye into the Semi-Finals against Russia.
“We had a good start, we were up 2-0 after 1, but the Russians never quit, it’s as if they didn’t break a sweat after they were down 2. We had a bad 2nd period and they played well. It really showed that the Russian’s had played together before, and we just died out in the 3rd.” Taverner speaking on the 5-2 Semi-Final loss to Russia.
Nicholas Jones, was the best out of the Crusader trio, statistically. The 17 year old from Edmonton had 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 points in 4 games for Team Canada West.
“It was disspointing not getting the gold medal but it was a great learning experience.” Jones said.
“I met some great people and made memories that will last a life time. It was an unbelievable feeling being able to put on the maple leaf. Playing players from other countries was definitely unique, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget.” Added Jones.
It was a different experience for Crusader Goaltender Tommy Nixon, although only seeing action in the Exhibition game versus the United States, Nixon still felt he got his full share of experience.
“Going to the WJAC was a phenomenal experience. Wearing the red and white is a huge honor for me. It is amazing to be one of the fortunate few who represent our amazing nation.” Nixon stated
This wasn’t the first time Nixon has represented his country at an international event. Nixon played for the national team at the World Inline Championships last summer, and he knows what the Bronze medal means to his country.
“Going into the tournament, obviously we had our sights set on gold, but winning a medal in a world championship is a incredibly tough, regardless of the color.”
Team Canada West was able to capture the Bronze medal with a 5-3 win over Switzerland, a game that Nicholas Jones open the scoring, and Andrew Taverner picking up an assist on the game winning goal.
In the end the 3 boys represented the Crusaders well, the AJHL well, their country well, but most importantly, themselves well. All 3 players have cherished the experience that so very few have gotten. To rebound and come home with an achievement such as the Bronze medal in a such a prestige tournament after getting their goal shattered in the previous game just shows what not only these 3 players, but the rest of the players from the AJHL and Western Canada what they are made of.