Justin Sourdif is beyond excited to wear the maple leaf for the first time during international hockey competition.
“It was pretty surreal, getting the call,” Sourdif said about being among 66 players named to Canada’s three squads for the 2018 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, a tournament to be played in New Brunswick starting Friday (Nov. 3).
Hockey Canada announced the rosters on Oct. 16 – a Tuesday morning Sourdif won’t soon forget.
In July, he was among 112 players invited to Canada’s national under-17 development camp and introduced to the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence.
“They just cut it down from six teams to three teams,” the 16-year-old said, “so obviously I was super excited to get the call. It was a great experience, you know, just being able to throw on the maple leaf, over the summer. This will be my first time wearing it while playing against other countries in competition.”
On Friday, the Now-Leader caught up with the five-foot-10 Sourdif before he joined his Vancouver Giants teammates for a practice at the WHL team’s practice facility at Ladner Leisure Centre, prior to home games Saturday (Oct. 27, against Seattle Thunderbirds) and Sunday (Brandon Wheat Kings) at Langley Events Centre.
“He has lots of confidence, great instincts and, for his age, an elite skill set,” Dyck said of the player nicknamed “Sourds.”
“He’s making the most of the opportunities we’ve given him.”
NEXT VANCOUVER GIANTS HOME GAMES AT @LangleyEvents:
Saturday, Oct. 27 vs. @SeattleTbirds (7 PM)
Tickets 🎟️: https://t.co/3yo1bGQlVs
— Vancouver Giants (@WHLGiants) October 22, 2018
A forward, Sourdif has spent much of his ice time on a line with American-born Brayden Watts and Milos Roman, a centre from Slovakia.
“Primarily, right now he’s playing on our best line – our best line on both sides of the puck, so we’ve got a lot of confidence that he can get the job done,” Dyck noted, “and we put him in some situations in overtime, even – three-on-three and four-on-four. He’s seen some powerplay time, so we’re giving him lots of opportunity, and he’s earned that.”
The 2002-born Sourdif spent the bulk of the 2017/18 season with Valley West Hawks (now Giants) of the BC Major Midget League before joining the Vancouver Giants – who selected him third overall in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft – for the team’s playoff run last spring.
“Those games helped me a lot with heading into this year,” Sourdif noted, “and it’s all still a bit of an adjustment. I didn’t get to play all the pre-season games, I got injured there, but going into the regular season, I kind of eased into it and around the third or fourth game, I felt back in the groove, pretty comfortable. It was awesome getting those games in late last year, as a way to know what to expect this year, for sure.”
Dyck counts Sourdif among several of his Surrey-raised players, including fellow wingers Davis Koch, Tyler Ho and Hunor Torzsok, and veteran D-man Matt Barberis.
In Sourdif, the coach sees a player who can improve his game through preparation.
“I think he’s always been a good player,” Dyck said, “because as I say he’s had that elite skill set and instincts, but it’s going to get harder and harder for him. Now he’s playing against better players, certainly at the U17s, and as we move forward here and establish ourselves as a good team, he’s going to start seeing better defensemen, better forwards playing up against him. He’s starting to put up some pretty good numbers so he’s going to have to rely on that team game to create more offensively.”
With the Giants, Sourdif isn’t afraid to hit players up to four years older than him.
“The coach has told me to just play my game, focus and follow the system, and kind of when a hit’s there, take it, because they might not expect that from a 16-year-old,” he said. “I’ve kind of done that my whole life. Even though I’m not the biggest kid, I still like to get in the corners there, and that’s what he’s told me to do.”
For the tourney in New Brunswick, the 66 Canadian players will be divided into three teams – Team Canada Black, Red and White – and will compete against the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. in their quest for a gold medal.
Sourdif will be with Canada’s Team Red roster for games in Saint John and Quispamsis.
“We (the Giants) have the game Sunday afternoon against Brandon (on Oct. 28),” he explained, “and I fly out Monday, and then I go through Toronto and on to New Brunswick for a couple of weeks. It should be great.”
TSN will air both semifinals on Friday, Nov. 9, as well as the bronze- and gold-medal games on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Since 1986, Hockey Canada notes, more than 1,700 NHL draft picks have suited up for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, previously known as the Quebec Esso Cup. Those players include Ilya Kovalchuk, Rick Nash, Marc-André Fleury, Alexander Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.
Sourdif, who played minor hockey in Surrey before transfering to Burnaby Winter Club and eventually Delta Hockey Academy, expects to enjoy “a great experience” on the other side of the country.
“I’ve never been to New Brunswick,” he noted, “but they have a lot of fans there, and it’s a pretty good hockey town, they love the game there, and it’ll be great to get to know see the players on our team, and from other countries as well.”