Young guns head to Winnipeg

Brandon Magee has been looking forward to the eight day Christmas break for a while now.

Heading home to Edmonton.

Skating on the neighborhood outdoor rink and dressing up the tree on Christmas Eve.

Good times.

But truthfully, Magee is more interested in what happens afterwards.

He’s not heading back to the Bruins, at least not immediately.

Instead, Magee and Chilliwack teammate Steven Hodges are heading to Winnipeg for the World U-17 Hockey Challenge.

The pair will skate for Team Pacific in the 10 team tournament running Dec. 29 to Jan. 4.

Magee and Hodges have been identified as two of the best 16-year-old skaters in the country.

They join Carter Berg, Kevin Sundher and Ryan Howse as the only Bruins to ever skate in the tourney.

“I’m just really excited to put on a Canadian jersey and have an opportunity to play with a select group of guys,” Magee said. “When you wear red and white, there’s a lot of pride on the line. You want to do the best for that team and come out with the gold medal.”

Hockey Canada’s website contains a list of 1,132 athletes who’ve played at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge and gone on to be drafted by National Hockey League teams.

The list of Team Pacific alumni is impressive and includes Calgary Flames superstar Jarome Iginla (1994), sure-fire Hall of Fame defenceman Scott Niedermayer (1990) and Colorado Avalanche legend Joe Sakic (1986).

“It is a big honour and this could be my only opportunity to wear a Canadian jersey,” Magee said. “Hopefully it’s not, but if it is I’m going to try and do my best.”

Magee has prior experience at a tournament of this sort. Last year he skated for Team Alberta’s U-16 squad.

“We were able to win gold at the Canada Western Challenge,” he described. “It was a good experience because you’ve got to come together as a group. The team that gells the fastest is going to have the best opportunity to win.”

Therein lies the trick.

Split down the middle between Alberta and British Columbia players, Magee has faced many of his Team Pacific teammates in the Western Hockey League.

But playing with them and playing against them are two different animals.

“We’re all on Facebook together trying to get to know each other,” Magee said. “I don’t think it will be too hard because we’re all pretty good players, and every team at the tournament is in the same boat.”

In Hodges, Magee has at least one familar face.

Both were selections in the 2009 bantam draft, with Hodges going in the first round (ninth overall) and Magee in the fourth round (84th ova).

Magee has had the stronger rookie season so far, with six goals and 12 points in 29 games (as compared to three goals and seven points in 23 games for Hodges).

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the same line, so we’ve got some good chemistry together,” Magee commented. “We have a good relationship and we compete a little bit. Having him around helps push me to be a better player.”

So smooth has Magee’s transition to the WHL been that early last week he found himself skating on Chilliwack’s first line.

With Ryan Howse away at the Canadian National Junior Team selection camp, Magee moved into the vacant spot alongside Roman Horak and Robin Soudek.

It speaks volumes about how much the coaching staff trusts the youngster.

“It was a great experience playing with those two guys, because they move the puck so well,” Magee said. “I was kind of surprised when they put me on that line, but it was fun.”

Magee has spent most of this season moving between lines, and that versatility will help him in Winnipeg, where he may be asked to play any number of roles.

He has shown offensive ability, but he has also embraced the defensive game and shown a tenacious side — the ability to get under an opponent’s skin.

“Defence wins you championships, so that’s first for me,” Magee said. “I try to do a little bit of everything, and if I can get someone off their game, I’m doing my job.”

Follow the World U-17 Hockey Challenge at www.hockeycanada.ca.