SURREY — For a week starting on Oct. 27, Tyler Popowich will trade his Vancouver Giants jersey for one with a maple leaf for a crest.
The Surrey-raised player, 16, has been chosen to represent Canada at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sault St. Marie, Ont.
The 66 Canadian players at the tournament – including Luka Burzan, another Surrey-raised shooter – are divided into three teams, wearing Black, Red and White colours.
On Tuesday (Oct. 18), Burzan and Popowich were among 13 forwards assigned to Team Black.
The Canadian squads will battle the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and United States in their quest for gold.
A seven-day Hockey Canada development camp in July involved 111 players.
“I felt I had a pretty good camp, and it felt pretty good getting that phone call from Ryan Jankowski (Hockey Canada’s director of player development),” Popowich told the Now.
“I know it’s going to be a long tournament and we need to start off quick, and hopefully get a couple of wins and just perform,” he added.
“Playing for Canada like this, it’s a first for me, it’s special, amazing, and it’ll be an honour and a great experience, I think.”
(PICTURED: Surrey’s Luka Burzan, 16, now with the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors.)
Last year, Popowich won a bronze medal with Team B.C. at the Western Canada Under-16 Challenge Cup, after he was chosen third overall by the Giants in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft.
With the Giants this season, the six-foot-four rookie centre has yet to register a point in eight games played.
The team plays Saskatoon Blades on Wednesday (Oct. 19) at Langley Events Centre. CLICK HERE for game details.
On the road last week, the Giants won four games in a row over Alberta teams that play in the WHL’s Central Division.
Popowich will eventually get more playing time with the Giants, when the time is right.
“It’s not expected of a 16-year-old to play a ton of minutes in this league, but I’m getting a fair amount, mostly with Taden Rattie and (fellow rookie) Tristyn DeRoose, but the lines get switched around a lot, too,” he said in a phone interview as the Giants boarded a bus for Lethbridge last Friday morning (Oct. 14).
On the road trip, the team beat Calgary by a score of 5-3, Edmonton 2-0, Lethbridge 4-3 and Medicine Hat 2-1.
Giants GM Glen Hanlon said the franchise is happy Popowich will get an opportunity to play for Hockey Canada.
“All of these international experiences make you a better player, and we know that this will help his development,” Hanlon stated.
Most of the players selected for the tournament will represent Canada for the first time, as part of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence, according to Shawn Bullock, senior manager of hockey operations.
“They have been selected not only based on their current ability, but also on their potential to represent Canada at under-18 and junior competition in the coming years,” Bullock stated.
Surrey’s Burzan is among 15 Under-17 Canadians who earned a taste of international competition last February when they won a silver medal at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games. CLICK HERE to read about it.
Burzan, formerly of the Valley West Hawks of the B.C. Major Midget League, now skates as a rookie with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. This season, in 10 games played as of Monday, he has scored three goals and added three assists.
Popowich grew up in the Panorama area of Surrey while playing for teams at Burnaby Winter Club.
“It was pretty special to be drafted by the team I grew up watching, kind of surreal,” he said of being selected by the Giants in the bantam draft. “With BWC, we used to go to a lot of the Giants games to sell 50/50 tickets, once or twice a year, around the rink at the Coliseum. It was fun.”
So far, despite a pretty lousy record for the team on home ice, he likes playing for the Giants at Langley Events Centre, the team’s new home.
“There’s a good atmosphere in there for sure,” Popowich said. “It’s a little more loud than the (Pacific Coliseum, the team’s former home rink), and I guess that comes with a smaller building, but it’s nice and new in there, really good.”