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Speers hoping to leave impression at U17 tournament

Thursday, January 02, 2014   by: SooToday.com Staff

Blake Speers is hoping to make an impression, and putting up 4 points in his first 3 games for Team Ontario at the 2014 World Hockey Challenge is a good start.

The Sault Ste. Marie native is part of a very strong Team Ontario squad made up of nearly the entire 1st round OHL draft class of 2013. 

The 10-team tournament includes Canadian regional teams from Atlantic, Pacific, West, Quebec and Ontario.  The international competition comes from teams from the USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Germany and the defending champions from Sweden at the event taking place at 3 venues in the Cape Breton region of Nova Scotia.   

For Speers, he’s spent some quality top-6 minutes under the guidance of Team Canada and Oshawa Generals bench boss Roger Hunt.   The 11th overall pick of the Hounds has netted 11 goals and 9 assists good for 19 points in 35 games this season in the OHL.

While the players at this tourney may only be 16 years of age, Speers believes the pace of the international game with the best 16-year-old’s in the world, is close to OHL caliber of hockey.  

“It’s pretty similar to be honest with you, I think the OHL might be a little bit faster, it’s a pretty good game in that league,” said Speers after Team Ontario’s 5-1 victory over Team Atlantic on Monday night.

“It’s something though that I have to get used to here, maybe have  a little more time and stuff like that, so it’s taken some adjusting but I’m getting used to it.”

Speers is also excited at getting the opportunity to show his offensive prowess on the power play alongside the likes of fellow first rounders’ Dylan Strome (Erie) and Graham Knott (Niagara).

“It’s awesome, obviously coming here is to get better and be better when I get back to my team in the Soo and to get minutes like that gives me some confidence and I’m hoping to do what I can with it.”

While bringing together an all-star team isn’t always easy, Speers believes the Team Ontario has what it takes to mesh and perhaps win a championship on Saturday. 

“We know each other from past events and stuff like that, we played against each other growing up, it’s good we have been bonding well,” said the Hounds rookie forward.

“The things they preach to us is we all have to accept our roles and we’ve all come as goal scorers on this team and some guys have had to lower their role, not necessarily lower their role but to change their role to a checker or PK and everything is just as important, we need everybody to win and that’s what we are doing clearly right now.

“Our goal right now is to keep getting better every day, ever period, every shift and that’s what coach Roger is preaching into us and we are going to be ready for the US and I’ve got all the faith in the world in these guys as they are on my team right now.”

The tournament wraps up with a Gold and Bronze medal games on Saturday.  The Under-17 tournament has been shadowed by the World Juniors during the Christmas Holidays, so Hockey Canada will be moving the international event to November and will decrease the amount of Canadian Regional Teams from 5 down to 3 for next season’s event.

Editor's note: This story was filed by Chris Dawson of BayToday.ca, SooToday.com's sister site in North Bay. Dawson is at the Under-17 tournemant. The story was filed prior to Team Ontario's 6-5 shootout loss this morning to Team Russia. Speers was held off the scoresheet in the loss.

Cutline: Greyhounds forward Blake Speers tries to get a shot off against Team Atlantic in Team Ontario's 5-1 win over the host team at the Under-17 tournament.  Photo by Chris Dawson.

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