U Sports all-stars ready to take on Canadian juniors at selection camp

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — In the midst of exam season, Spencer Abraham’s study break is pretty unique. The 24-year-old Queen’s University law student will put down his books, lace up his skates, and play against Canada’s junior team before getting back to his studies.

Abraham is a defenceman for an all-star team of U Sports hockey players who will play against Canada’s selection camp roster on Wednesday and Thursday to help Hockey Canada evaluate its team before paring it down to 22 players for the world junior championship. He had to postpone two exams by a week in order to participate for the third straight year.

“I’ll study in my hotel room most of the night, tomorrow I’ll get up and do a little more studying, come to the rink for a skate,” said Abraham on Tuesday at the Meridian Centre, where both games will be held. “Go home, do my best to flip that switch. It’s not easy but you get used to it.

“Today focus on my studies and then I’ll have to turn that off come tomorrow night and get ready to play these guys.”

Although it puts a strain on his studies, Abraham is happy to make the sacrifice. He said most hockey players would kill for the opportunity to play against Canada’s junior team.

Abraham’s no stranger to top-flight competition having played four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Brampton Battalion and Erie Otters, but playing against Canada’s best is special.

“It’s quite the opportunity to showcase your talent against I think probably the best young players in the world,” said Abraham. “Lots of NHL scouts there. It’s a great opportunity.”

Proving that Canadian university hockey is competitive — and maybe earning a shot at a professional contract — is a big draw for most of the U Sports players. Head coach Brad Peddle, who also coaches for St. FX University, said he uses the presence of NHL scouts to motivate his players.

“This is about representing themselves, their universities, their university programs and U Sports as a whole,” said Peddle. “But it’s also about trying to open up a door for them because they’re good players. If you look in that room, these guys are all guys who’ve played four or five years of major junior hockey.

“We want players to be able to come to university, work on their games, get better while they’re here, get their degrees, then go play pro hockey when they’re done. That’s what these guys aspire to be.”

Abraham knows better than most that the Canadian university all-stars can hang with Canada’s national junior team. In 2015, his first year with the team, Abraham scored the shootout winner as the then-Canadian Interuniversity Sport team beat the junior 3-2.

“It’s something I’ll always remember,” said Abraham. “But you need to have a short memory playing hockey so I’ll use that for confidence coming into this week but it’s a fresh slate here.”

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