Ever since he was little, Spencer Abraham has watched the World Junior Hockey Championship every winter break. This year, he has a chance to help the team he’s rooted for years: Canada’s national junior hockey team.
Abraham, along with fellow men’s hockey player Kevin Bailie, has been selected as part of a 23-man roster earlier this week to represent the CIS in a pair of showcase games against the Canadian team.
“Just to contribute to that program in any way has been an honour,” Abraham said. The Toronto matches on Dec. 13 and 14 will help prep the national squad for the 2016 World Junior Championship, occurring in Finland later this month and continuing into January.
“You have some of the best junior-age players in the world,” Abraham said. “The majority of those guys there are first-round draft picks to the NHL. It’s going to be a high-paced game, with lots of skill. I’m pretty excited to be a part of it.”
The pair will be joined behind the bench by Queen’s head coach Brett Gibson, who will serve as an assistant coach for the CIS all-star team.
Canada comes into the tournament as defending champions, led by the efforts of Connor McDavid, Nic Petan and Sam Reinhart, who each registered 11 points to lead the tournament in scoring.
Abraham sits eighth in OUA for points for defencemen, while Bailie leads the country with a .946 save percentage.
Abraham will have the chance to play against a pair of high profile ex-teammates from his junior days in Erie — forward Dylan Strome and defenceman Travis Dermott, selected in this past year’s draft by the Arizona Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively.
While Bailie doesn’t have any ex-teammates on the roster, he’s befriended Kingston Frontenacs players such as Roland McKeown and Lawson Crouse over the past few seasons, who will also be on Canada’s team. Other notable names on the junior roster include Leafs draft pick Mitch Marner and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Travis Konecny.
Abraham said he knows the game will give him and Bailie a chance to showcase their talent on a national stage.
“It’s an opportunity,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t understand about going to the CIS from major junior is there’s still an opportunity to turn and play professional.”
“If you stick with it, and keep getting better, then those doors are going to open. There’s going to be hundreds of NHL scouts there, and a lot of high-end media. I just have to make the most of my opportunity and play the way I know I’m capable of playing.”
With the team being thrown together and having just a few practices, Abraham isn’t concerned that they won’t able to mesh rapidly.
“We’ve got a lot of talent level there,” he said. “There’s a lot of smart guys, a lot of guys that have played and competed at a high level before. I think we’re going to adapt pretty quickly.”
While Bailie’s happy to be part of the experience, he knows he’s there more in support of the junior team than anything else.
“Every person who puts on a pair of skates in Canada has dreams of being at that level,” he said. “We’re fans of these guys. We’ll be cheering for them rather than hoping to beat them. Next to the Olympics and the Stanley Cup, it’s one of the biggest sporting events in Canada.”
While the games are an exciting opportunity for all involved, they do come at a bit of an unfortunate time — during exams season. Both Bailie and Abraham were forced to adjust their schedules heavily, with Abraham having to write four exams in three days.
“You have to make sacrifices and tighten your schedule for an once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Bailie said.
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