By Sam Laskaris
Though his squad did not return with any hardware, Richie Albert will still have some fond memories of his first international hockey tournament.
Albert, a 13-year-old member of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation near St. Thomas, returned on Sunday from a tournament in Bratislava, Slovakia.
He participated in an event called the World Selects Invitational. He suited up for a team dubbed Draftday Hockey. This squad, featuring players born in 2002, primarily consisted of players from western Ontario. Three Americans were also on the club.
Eighteen teams from around the world participated in the tournament’s 2002 category. Besides Canadian and American entrants, the division also attracted squads from Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland.
After posting a 3-2 round-robin record, Albert and his teammates were eliminated from further action after losing their first playoff contest, 3-2 in overtime against a Latvian entry.
“I was fine with the way things went for our team,” said Albert, a centre who spent the 2015-16 season with the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs’ Minor Bantam AAA team. “I was in it for the experience.”
Sean Nother, the Chiefs’ head coach, selected which players he wanted on the Draftday Hockey club. Albert was one of three Chiefs’ players on the team. But he said he knew about most of the others that were also on the squad as he had played against them at some point.
Those on the Draftday Hockey roster paid $2,500 (U.S.) each to take part in the event.
Albert, who has been playing hockey since the age of three, said the international tourney has been the highlight of his career thus far.
“I’m going to remember just how the team came together quickly in such a short time,” he said. “It was neat how quickly we all bonded.”
The club staged four practices in Canada before heading overseas. It then managed to squeeze in a pair of practices during its three-day stay in the Czech Republic, before continuing on to Slovakia for the tournament.
The Draftday Hockey squad registered round-robin victories against teams from Germany, Kazakhstan and Switzerland.
Albert knew he would be squaring off against some top-notch players in his age group from around the world.
“I was really impressed with a couple of players,” he said. “They really stood out.”
Germany’s Vasiliy Ponomarev especially caught Albert’s attention.
“His team ended up in last place but he led the tournament in scoring,” Albert said of Ponomarev, who racked up 17 points, including nine goals, in five matches.
As for Albert, he scored once and also earned an assist in his team’s six matches.
“I thought I did well,” said Albert, a 5-foot-6, 150-pounder who aspires to play in the Ontario Hockey League in a few seasons. “I played my best when our team was playing shorthanded.”
As for the upcoming campaign, Albert will return to the Chiefs’ organization where he will spend his Major Bantam year.