Haliburton County Huskies forward Patrick Saini has been rubbing shoulders with some of the best up-and-coming players in the country this week after being invited to attend the Canada East team camp ahead of the World Jr. A Challenge.
Taking place in Cornwall, ON from Dec. 11 to 18, the showcase – returning for the first time since 2019 – will feature two Canadian teams as well as invitees from Latvia, Sweden and the U.S. Speaking to The Highlander before heading south, Saini said it would be “a dream come true” to make the Canada East roster.
Thirty-three players from Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes were invited to a three-day camp, beginning Dec. 5, with a 22-man roster to be announced Dec. 8. “As a young hockey fan, you grow up watching Team Canada all the time. To be a part of that, and to wear the jersey would be such an honour,” Saini said. “It’s an exciting opportunity. I just have to enjoy it, not get too focused on making the team and see what happens… I know what kind of player I am, so if I do my thing and work hard, then I’ve got a good chance.”
The World Jr. A Challenge has been running since 2006, providing a platform for junior hockey players under the age of 20 to show their skills on a national level. Future NHLers such as David Pastrnak, Kyle Turris, Cale Makar, Andrei Svechnikov and Nikolaj Ehlers have competed in past tournaments.
While rosters for the visiting nations have yet to be announced, there will likely be some big-hitters competing again this year. Latvia, Sweden and the U.S. will each compete in the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, being held in Halifax, NS and Moncton, NB from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. In years past, teams have used the Jr. A Challenge as a tune-up for that event when it’s held in Canada.
No matter the opponent, Saini is confident he’ll be able to hold his own. The 19-yearold centre has been in fine form for the Huskies this season, putting up a team-high 50 points in 27 games in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL). While recognizing linemates Ty Collins and Christian Stevens, Saini also heaped special praise on Huskies’ trainer Owen Flood for helping him to take his game to a new level this year. Haliburton’s Matt Duchene also played a role, Saini said.
“I worked so hard during the summer with Owen. He was able to take the best parts of my game and elevate them even further, and then helping me in areas that could use some work. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” Saini said. “I also skated with Matt Duchene in the summer, and I learned a lot from him.” Should Saini crack the Canada East roster, he will miss four games with the Huskies, returning after the holidays for a Dec. 30 tilt on home ice with the Mississauga Chargers.