Beginning Saturday in Red Deer, the best hockey players in Canada will represent their provinces in the Canada Winter Games. Like the Olympics, the Canada Winter Games are held every four years, so not every elite player gets to be a part of them. But they do often provide the first glimpse, particularly on the men’s side, of elite talent. It’s often the first time a player is exposed to the Program of Excellence with Hockey Canada, which leads to the under-17 program, the World Juniors and the Olympics.
On the men’s side, it is an under-16 tournament, while the best under-18 players compete on the women’s side. Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Paul Kariya and Nathan MacKinnon count themselves among the alumni on the men’s side, while Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford and Meghan Agosta have all competed on the women’s side.
Listed below is the player to watch from each team on the men’s side of the tournament.
BRITISH COLUMBIA: The Kamloops Blazers hope Logan Stankoven, whom they selected third overall in the bantam draft last spring, can fill the net for them the way he has in minor hockey. He scored 57 goals last season to lead the Canadian Sport School League last season and with 43 goals and 80 points for the Thompson Blazers, is making a mockery of the BC midget league this season. He’s also played seven WHL games in Kamloops this season.
YUKON: Playing for the Cariboo Cougars of the BC midget league this season, Ashton Underhill is a dogged player who never takes a shift off. The right winger also has outstanding leadership qualities.
ALBERTA: The Western League has never granted exceptional status to a player, but Matt Savoie might be the first. He has applied for the designation and with 28 goals and 53 points in Canadian Sport School League, he’s making a compelling case. He has tremendous hands and quickness and seems to read the play two or three steps ahead of players in his cohort.
SASKATCHEWAN: Playing in his first season in AAA hockey after coming from Humboldt, defenseman Nolan Allan was taken third overall in the bantam draft by the Prince Albert Raiders and is playing midget hockey this season in Saskatoon. A very good skater who isn’t afraid to join the rush, Allan is equally adept at both ends of the ice.
NORTHWEST TERRITORIES: Jonah Bevington scored a point a game and won a Canadian Sport School League championship with the OHA Edmonton bantam prep team last season. A fifth-round pick of the Portland Winterhawks in the bantam draft last spring, Bevington plays a complete two-way game.
MANITOBA: The top defenseman in the Canadian Sport School League last season, Carson Lambos went second overall in the bantam draft to Kootenay in 2018. He’s already played five games for the WHL team and scored his first goal. At 15, he’s already 6-feet and 203 pounds and has a hard, heavy shot. He’s also not afraid to join the rush.
NUNAVUT: This marks the first time Nunavut will have a team in the Canada Winter Games and it will be led by Max Joy, a 5-foot-9, 157-pound defenseman who is playing for the midget team at Notre Dame in Saskatchewan.
ONTARIO: Another possibility for exceptional status next season, Shayne Wright of the Don Mills Flyers midget team has the complete package. He’s only 14, but is head-and-shoulders the best prospect for the OHL draft in 2019. His game-breaking talent is matched by his speed. Wright helped Don Mills to an Ontario bantam championship last season and is the top player on a Don Mills minor midget juggernaut this season. The Flyers are the top-ranked team in Ontario and have a 30-0-3 record.
QUEBEC: Another 2004-born player with an early birthday, defenseman Tristan Luneau is playing up a year in the Quebec midget AAA league with Trois-Rivieres. He’s already 6-feet and 172 pounds. He’s mobile and has very good puck skills.
NEW BRUNSWICK: He’s just 5-foot-9 and 154 pounds, but Peter Reynolds has been putting up some boffo numbers at Shattuck St. Mary’s the past couple of seasons. Last year, he had 116 points for the bantam team and has 62 points in 44 games for the midget team this season. He’s committed to Boston College for 2022-23, but could find himself in the Quebec League next season.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND: Defenseman Zach Biggar led the PEI bantam league in assists last season, led his team to a provincial championship and was named the league’s top defenseman.
NOVA SCOTIA: After posting a 50-goal season with a midget team in Halifax last season, Cameron MacDonald has 66 goals and 111 points with the Selects Hockey Academy in Connecticut this season.
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR: After dominating bantam hockey in Newfoundland last season, Zach Dean moved to Toronto to play for the Toronto Nationals AAA midget team this season. Dean led the Newfoundland bantam league in goals, assists and points last season and was the league’s most valuable player.