Recently acquired Grizzlies defenseman Eli Barnett comes to Victoria having played in Maritime Junior Hockey League in 2020-21. But one team that might not jump out to you in Barnett’s playing history is Team New Brunswick at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, AB.
Barnett played seven games with Team NB and had one assist. As for Team New Brunswick, it finished in eighth place after being thumped 7-2 by Team British Columbia in the seventh-place game.
It caught my attention. Barnett couldn’t be the first player to play at the Canada Winter Games before advancing to the BC Hockey League? And sure enough, there are dozens of BCHL players who suited up for provincial teams before starting their junior hockey journey.
The age category for hockey at the Canada Winter Games is players must be under the age of 16 as of Dec. 31 the year before the event takes place. So for the 2019 Games in Red Deer, all birth years of the players were 2003 to 2007 inclusive.
Looking at the last three Winter Games, I want to highlight the future BCHL players who suited up, including the teams they played for and who won medals for their teams.
2011 Halifax Games
During the 2011 Winter Games in Halifax, 14 future BCHL players suited up for provincial/territorial teams. Of those 14, eight players were on Team British Columbia and won the gold medal against Team Quebec. Team Alberta claimed the bronze against Team Ontario.
Aside from the future BCHL players on the roster, several future NHLers played for Team BC as well. These include Tristan Jarry, Shea Theodore, and Sam Reinhart. Aside from the Team British Columbia, Torrin White won bronze with Team Alberta.
White joined the Langley Rivermen during the 2015-16 season. As for the other future BCHL players, Kurt Keats and Paul Stoykewych suited up for Team Manitoba, Evan MacEachern suited up for Team Nova Scotia, and Riley Pettitt suited up for Team Yukon.
2015 Prince George Games
For the 2015 Prince George Games, 22 soon-to-be BCHL players suited up for provincial/territorial teams. Like the 2011 Games, the majority suited up for Team British Columbia with eleven in total.
During those 2015 Games, Team Ontario won the gold against Team Alberta and Team Manitoba took the bronze against Team Quebec.
Team British Columbia finished in sixth place after losing the fifth-place game 3-2 against Team Nova Scotia. Only forward Cayden Kraus (Alberni Valley Bulldogs, 2015-18) won bronze with Team Manitoba.
Aside from the forwards and defense, the 2015 games saw a future BCHL goalie suit up. Netminder Zach Rose (Victoria Grizzlies, 2017-19) played for Team Newfoundland. In four games, Rose had a 4.26 goals-against-average and an .868 save percentage.
Team Newfoundland finished in 10th after falling 6-5 in the ninth-place game against Team PEI.
2019 Red Deer Games
For the 2019 Red Deer Games, 17 future BCHL players suited up for provincial/territorial teams. These games also saw athletes represent Nunavut for the first time. Like the last two Winter Games, the majority of players who went on to skate in the BCHL played for Team British Columbia. There were 10 future BCHLers on Team BC in total.
In Red Deer, Team Quebec nabbed the gold against Team Ontario. Team Alberta claimed bronze against Team Saskatchewan. Team BC ended up seventh after defeating Team New Brunswick in the seventh-place game.
— Jake Leschyshyn (@JakeLeschyshyn7) February 15, 2019
None of the future BCHL players who suited up won a medal. Sam Schofield and Ethan Anstey of Team Northwest Territories finished 11th place. Hudson Thornton and Cole Assailly of Team Manitoba came in fifth.
The Team British Columbia roster features many current and former BCHL players. Players like Finlay Williams, Jack O’Brien, and Seiya Tanaka-Campbell. Thomas Milic, who played one game as an affiliate with Coquitlam in 2019-20, was the only goalie to suit up for the Red Deer Games and play at least one game in the BCHL.
While the future host cities of the Winter Games are not known, future host provinces for the next several Winter Games are.
The 2023 Canada Winter Games are in Prince Edward Island. The 2027 Games are in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories hosts in 2031, and the 2035 Games go to Saskatchewan.
In the last three games are any indication, Team British Columbia will feature a healthy number of players who end up in the BCHL. In the last three Winter Games, a total of 35 British Columbians later skated in the BCHL. One can only hope for a gold medal performance like the 2011 Halifax Games when the tournament rolls around again in 2023.