THREE national junior players skate around the rink at North Vancouver's Karen Magnussen Arena, firing passes at each other, testing out their dirtiest dangles and showing flashes of the skill that has made the North Shore a hotbed for the sport.
Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly and Dalton Thrower? Nope.
This is Evan Anderson, Spencer Quon and Sam Curleigh, and while the sport they're playing looks a lot like ice hockey, it's in many ways very different. These are three of the 12 players who make up Canada's national junior inline hockey team and they're rolling around the cool blue tiles that are laid down every spring to turn this rink into a breeding ground for inline excellence.
"It's a lot different than ice hockey - it's a totally different game," said Curleigh as the players stepped off the ice for a break.
"We were taught that it's more like basketball than ice hockey, that's what our coaches stressed," added Quon.
The obvious difference is that they're on wheels, not blades. But it goes a lot deeper than that.
"It's four-on-four, it's more of a possession game," said Anderson, adding that there is no body checking allowed. "You've got to keep possession of the puck until you have a really good scoring chance, unlike ice hockey where it's just sort of north, south, bang, crash until you get the puck in the net."
It's obvious that the guys - all high level junior ice hockey players as well - are having a blast.
"There's a ton of skill in inline and a lot of people get their ice hockey skills these days from stick-handling in inline. It's so much fun," said Anderson. "Tons of skill. A lot of hands and patience - that's basically what it's all about."
The three players will be joined by Spencer's twin brother Dyllan, Eric Margo and Garret Oliver - all longtime members of the North Shore Inline Hockey League - in making up fully half of the 12-man team that will represent Canada at the 2013
World Junior Inline Hockey Championships running July 8-14 in Huntington Beach, Calif. All six except for Oliver, a resident of the City of Vancouver, come from North Vancouver. That North Shore dominance can be chalked up to the level of play in the NSIHL league, said Quon.
"There's no better league to play in than here, there's no better opportunity to get."
"I think it just goes to show the commitment level from the staff at NSIHL and the support from the parents in that league," said Canadian co-coach Thomas Woods in an email to the North Shore News. Woods himself is an NSIHL alum and elite player. Last season he helped Canada's senior national team win gold at the inline world championships. The roller hockey here is great, he said, but the core of the success also comes from high-level ice hockey.
"I think it has something to do with the number of strong ice hockey programs in the area. A lot of the boys have played for the North Shore Winter Club or North Vancouver Minor Hockey Association and both those programs produce very good hockey players."
The players also concede that although the two sports are different in many ways, they are also inextricably linked. They all started as ice hockey players and came to inline as a way to extend the season while working on new moves, muscles and friendships.
"We just took our ice hockey skills and moved to inline," said Curleigh, adding they all have been playing together on blades since age 10 or 11.
The skills go both ways too, with inline tactics seeping into the players' ice hockey games.
"When I play ice I kind of look for backdoors and cute little passes," said Quon. "That definitely generates from here playing with these guys."
None of the boys, however, ever envisioned that their summer fun would turn into a world championship opportunity. This is the first national team duty for all of the North Shore players.
"It's a surreal feeling," said Quon. "It didn't really cross my mind, but now that it has I'm really looking forward to it."
Woods is hoping to watch his players earn gold just as he did last year when Canada ended a long drought at the senior level.
"It's really cool for me to see these guys that I have coached in the past stick with inline hockey and be successful," he said. "I hope I had some part to play in keeping them interested in the sport. Too many kids don't see a future in inline and stop after their youth programs finish. I am constantly trying to keep kids interested in the sport and show them some of the opportunities to represent their province or country or go play for a college in the States or even go play abroad in Europe. I'm looking forward to seeing how these guys I have coached will match up against some of the best inline hockey players in their age group from around the world."
Though it's inline, not ice, it is still a variation of the national game and that means there are expectations of success when heading to international play.
"It's hockey in Canada - it comes with high expectations," said Quon.
"We're probably one of the favourites to win - Canada is always a favourite," said Anderson, adding that the weight of hockey history will really hit them when they first pull on their Team Canada equipment. "It's pretty neat, especially when we get there and all of us are together putting on the jerseys. I think that's when it's going to sort of hit home."
The expectations may transfer over from ice to inline but the funding doesn't. The players received congratulatory letters when they made the team that also informed them they'd be on the hook for all their expenses. Air travel, hotel, meals and spending money for the nine-day trip will set the kids back somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1,500 to $2,000.
"It's a decent chunk of change," said Anderson with a chuckle. "We get a buck here or there from sponsors but for the most part we don't get any money from Canada Hockey."
The players are out now looking for support that will take them to California. To find out more about sponsorship opportunities contact Richard Ropchan of Inline Canada at 905-780-2150.
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