As we inch closer to the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, a handful of Western Hockey Leaguers are off to selection camps for their respective nations ahead of the annual tournament for junior hockey supremacy.
With nine players, including recent addition Josh Mahura (Anaheim Ducks), already named to Team Canada for the tournament, a total of 31 WHL players will take to the ice competing to wear their nation’s colours this holiday season.
Excluding Canada, the Czech Republic leads the way with five WHL players tabbed, including a pair of East Division rivals in Vojtech Budik (Buffalo Sabres) and Libor Hajek (Tampa Bay Lightning).
The Portland Winterhawks lead all WHL clubs with three players (Joachim Blichfeld, Henri Jokiharju, Kieffer Bellows) earning invitations to the camp for their respective nations. The Kamloops Blazers, Kootenay ICE, Prince Albert Raiders, Red Deer Rebels Spokane Chiefs and Swift Current Broncos have also each sent a pair of players to national team selection camps.
Overall, the Western Conference boasts 12 invites to 10 from the Eastern Conference, with seven players coming from teams in the U.S. Division. Leading this year’s group of international invites are WHL leading scorer Aleksi Heponiemi (Florida Panthers) and Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders).
The 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship – the 42nd running of the annual event – will take place beginning Dec. 26 in Buffalo, New York, featuring the first outdoor game in the history of the tournament when Canada and the United States square off on New Year’s Eve at New Era Field, the home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
BELARUS (4): Igor Martynov (F) – Victoria Royals; Vladislav Mikhalchuk (F) – Prince George Cougars; Sergei Sapego (D) – Prince Albert Raiders; Vladislav Yeryomenko (D) – Calgary Hitmen
CZECH REPUBLIC (5): Vojtech Budik (D) – Prince Albert Raiders; Libor Hajek (D) – Saskatoon Blades; Filip Kral (D) – Spokane Chiefs; Kristian Reichel (F) – Red Deer Rebels; Ondrej Vala (D) – Kamloops Blazers
DENMARK (1): Joachim Blichfeld (F) – Portland Winterhawks
FINLAND (4): Juuso Valimaki (D) – Tri-City Americans; Aleksi Heponiemi (F) – Swift Current Broncos; Henri Jokiharju (D) – Portland Winterhawks; Sami Moilanen (F) – Seattle Thunderbirds
RUSSIA (2): Alexander Alexeyev (D) – Red Deer Rebels; Artyom Minulin (D) – Swift Current Broncos
SLOVAKIA (2): Martin Bodak (D) – Kootenay ICE; Milos Roman (F) – Vancouver Giants
SWITZERLAND (2): Gillian Kohler (F) – Kootenay ICE; Justin Sigrist (F) – Kamloops Blazers
UNITED STATES (2): Kieffer Bellows (F) – Portland Winterhawks; Kailer Yamamoto (F) – Spokane Chiefs