For the first and only time before the 2023 Canada Winter Games, the U16 male and U18 female hockey teams hit the ice.
Over the weekend, both squads played two scrimmages each at the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre in preparation for the Games in Prince Edward Island from Feb. 18 to March 5.
Red Deer Rebels prospect and Calgary native Luke Vlooswyk, who earned a spot on the men’s team, said it was exciting to step on the ice as a member of Team Alberta.
“It’s been great, most of the guys know each other from previous teams. We’ve got a really great group of guys in there and it’s going to be an exciting couple of months leading up to the tournament,” he said.
“It’s an awesome feeling. It’s the first time I’ve really felt that pride inside and I’m really excited. I know the rest of the boys are for the tournament and it’s going to be fun.”
The 15-year-old played in the Alberta Cup last year which was a great experience but this will be his first true time representing his province.
One of the biggest challenges is developing chemistry within the team in a short amount of time before Christmas. The three-day camp which ran through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday was their only opportunity to do so before February.
Vlooswyk they’ve taken part in a few team-building exercises including listening to a speech from a K-9 unit member. The officer explained the importance of working as a team and responsibility.
“That was a really cool experience for the team and I think all the boys really enjoyed that,” he said.
Showing his ability to play a two-way game was key for Vlooswyk to prove to the coaching staff they made the right choice in selecting him.
“Being able to stretch the ice offensively, make quick passes up, join the rush, but also use my stick and my reach to my advantage,” he said.
When he’s not playing for Alberta the six-foot-two-inch tall defenceman mans the blueline for the undefeated U18 AAA Calgary Buffaloes in the Alberta Hockey League who are on a 17-game winning streak.
“That’s been awesome. When you talk about another great group of guys everyone on our team is clicking right now,” Vlooswyk said.
Head coach of the U16 male team Serge Lajoie said it was exciting to see the team together as a whole for the first time.
“We’ve challenged the players to just play to their strengths first and foremost,” Lajoie said. “We’re still in the formation and building stages and of this team, we want to see where players might fit… It’s almost like a concept of opening the barn door and letting the horses run.”
In Lajoie’s eyes, his team has a ton of skill all the way through the lineup. At the end of the day, the players scouted to play on the team had a competitive fire inside them.
The margin of error at the Games is going to be very small and he anticipates it’ll be very good hockey on display in two months time.
“It comes down to the team that is going to be disciplined in terms of playing to their structure but it’s a team that’s going to stick together,” Lajoie said.
“That was the purpose of this camp is for the coaching staff and players to build that bond and that relationship.”
Alberta’s bench boss also had high praise for Vlooswyk.
“I just like his presence on the ice. Off the ice, he’s exactly the same way he is on the ice. Very mature, very engaging young man, and that’s what drew me to him. He plays the game in a very mature way. He knows his strengths and plays to his strengths.
“He embodies what we’re looking for.”
Red Deer County’s Ryann Holbein donned the Alberta logo for the first time Friday night in an exhibition game with the U18 female team.
Despite some team struggles early on in learning how to play with one another she said the experience has been great.
“I’ve always dreamt of playing with the logo on my chest and so it feels unreal just to represent my province,” she said.
Early on Holbein said she’s been slotted on the powerplay which is a position she feels the most comfortable in.
“I just want to go out there and prove that I deserve to be there and also just show my heads up game that I’m known for,” Holbein added.
“I’ve gotten quite a few points on the powerplay this year… I play at the top of the umbrella so I’m kind of like the quarterback. Making heads-up deceptive plays, the sneaky little passes back, and just seeing the ice is what I’m really strong at.”
Holbein plays for the U18 AAA Sutter Fund Chiefs who are currently in third place in the Alberta Female Hockey League. Team Alberta’s U18 Female team head coach Brett Wold is also the bench boss for the Sutter Fund Chiefs.