Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Golden expectations for Canada West heading into World Junior A Challenge

(photo credit to Ryan Sawatzky)

CORNWALL, Ont. – As the World Junior A Challenge gets underway today, Team Canada West will enter the competition with golden expectations.“Our collective goal for this event is a gold medal,” stated Canada West head coach Justin Falk.The team, put together by Falk, along with the club’s director of operations, Rob Sklaruk (Spruce Grove Saints/AJHL) as well as assistant coaches Clayton Jardine (Camrose Kodiaks/AJHL); Brayden Klimosko (Battlefords North Stars/SJHL) and Evan McFeeters (Sherwood Park Saints/AJHL), know however, winning the WJAC will be no simple feat.Falk, who serves as head coach and general manager of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winkler Flyers, is well aware of the skill his Canada West squad will go up against over the next eight days in Cornwall.“With some of the best junior-aged players from around the world here, we expect a high-paced, competitive tournament,” said the towering six-foot-five former National Hockey League defenceman. “We are excited about the opportunity that lays ahead, as the tournament gets underway.”The Canada West staff, with the exception of Jardine, who was the team’s video coach back in 2019, are making their international debuts in the WJAC, but still boast plenty of experience as they prepare to guide their talent-laden squad.An alumnus of the Canadian Junior Hockey League and MJHL, Falk himself spent one season with the Swan Valley Stampeders (MJHL) before moving on to the Western Hockey League where he helped the Spokane Chiefs capture both the WHL’s Ed Chynoweth Cup as league champions and the Memorial Cup in 2008, while being named to the Tournament All-Star Team on defence.Will such a small window to chose their charges that would compete in the WJAC, that runs through December 18, the Canada West bench boss, and his staff, packed a lot into a short period time as they prepared to formulate their roster.“The entire process, and specifically the three-day selection camp was an exciting time for our staff and players that took part,” offered Falk in discussing the process that was held earlier this month.  He went on to add: “Many hours of preparation by all staff members went into bringing a balanced roster to camp that would compete for roles to fit the identity of our group, moving into the tournament. It was great to get all the players under one roof for a three-day camp period for a highly competitive evaluation.”Throughout the selection camp, the 34-year-old Snowflake, Man., product knew full-well it would not be easy to actually choose those that eventually cracked the roster.“Many tough decisions were made, as all the players understood the opportunity that was in front of them,” he replied when queried as to the team selection process.  “In these short-term evaluations, it made decisions difficult, but we are excited with this strong charactered group moving forward and the dynamic players that fit into the mould of what we envision Team Canada West to be.”Following his own personal success in junior, Falk went on to be selected in the fourth round, 110th overall, by the Minnesota Wild in the 2007 NHL Draft and later appeared in 279 contests with the Wild, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres, as part of his 10-year professional playing career.Among his other experiences on the blueline was winning the Calder Cup, emblematic of American Hockey League champions with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2016, under current Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar.With his WJAC side now chosen, Falk has a set focus in mind.“Team Canada West will be built on our identity and trust. The balance throughout our group, our work ethic, compete level, detail and the will to play for the guy beside them in that dressing room.”Canada West begins play at the 2022 World Junior A Challenge Sunday in Cornwall, with a 7 p.m. ET meeting with the United States.To follow the WJAC, click on the WORLD JR. A CHALLENGE website link.