Wed Nov 7

Calgary, AB -- Team BC came into the 2012 Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup as the team to beat.  Yet, that’s exactly what didn’t happen through the four-game tournament as the western-most province finished with a perfect 4-0 record to claim the Gold medal.

Stars Matthew Barzal and Jansen Harkins – the first and second overall picks from the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft – lived up to expectations and delivered outstanding performances in the Gold medal game, combining for five goals and nine points to pace BC to a 9-3 thumping of the two-time defending champion Team Alberta.

While winning the big prize was the intended goal for Team BC and its collection of future WHL stars, the experience of playing in a high-profile event while going up against the best players of their age group from across western Canada was invaluable in their development.

“Throughout last season and this season, I’ve just had so many opportunities with all the tournament we played in,” said Harkins, a product of North Vancouver, B.C., who was selected second overall by the Prince George Cougars in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft.

“To come here and get another chance to play against the best players in western Canada is such a great honor, and the way we came together and battled adversity just tops my whole season so far,” he said.

For Barzal, who was selected first overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2012 draft, the Western Canada U-16 Challenge cup represented a significant elevation in the caliber of hockey he is used to.  Going up against the elite players from across the west allowed him to test his abilities at a much higher level.

“It’s obviously one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a hockey player,” said Barzal, a native of Coquitlam, B.C., who is currently averaging near three points per game for his Vancouver NE Chiefs team in the BC Major Midget League.

“Every game is tough, and every player in this tournament can skate and play the game,”  said Barzal.  “All the players here know how to play hockey, so it was definitely a great thing to be able to test myself and show what I can do.”

It wasn’t just their top two stars that benefitted from competing at such a high level.  BC head coach Ryan Weber insists the team’s experience at the 2012 Western Canada U-16 Challenge Cup helped improve all 20 members of the Gold medal-winning side.

“There’s a lot of good hockey players in a tournament like this, and if it had been in my back yard, I would have been there at every game,” said Weber of the level of talent in the tournament.  “It gives the kids an opportunity to see where they fit in, and it’s a great check-in for them to see where they are as they move up towards the Western Hockey League.”