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121 student-athletes prepare to represent Canada at World University Winter Games

With the first half of the 2022 U Sports calendar in the books, student-athletes across the country are slowly filtering their way back from the holiday break to the rink, mat, court, or any other venue of their choosing as they look to ramp up their performance ahead of championship season.

Before conference standings and jockeying for playoff positioning becomes the talk of the Canadian university sports world, however, an international event on the horizon in New York will take the stage.

Beginning Wednesday, 121 Canadian student-athletes will represent their country at the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games in Lake Placid, the same place the games were held in 1972, the last time it was in North America.

The bi-annual event, which runs Jan. 11-22, brings together nearly 1,500 athletes from 43 different countries competing in 12 disciplines: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, Nordic combined, ski jumping, short track speed skating, long track speed skating, and snowboarding. There are 86 events with 258 medal opportunities up for grabs for the best student-athletes across the globe.

Canada’s 121 entrants — which will be spread across every sport except for figure skating, Nordic combined and ski jumping — are the third most in the competition, trailing only Japan’s 139 athletes, and the host nation’s 150 competitors.

This marks the first time since 2019 that the games will be held after 2021’s event Switzerland was cancelled less than a month out from competition due to COVID-19.

The Summer event will take place in Chengdu, China July 28-Aug. 8.

In the 2019 event, Canada placed 13th on the medal table, collecting one gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

Canada’s lone gold medal came in the men’s snowboard cross when Will Malisch of Western University stunned two-time junior world champion Daniil Dilman of Russia. 

Saint-Ambroise-de-Kildare, Que., native Audrey McManiman added a bronze medal in women’s snowboard cross, while Canada also won silver in women’s curling.

Both Canadian hockey teams found the podium as the women’s team took silver and the men’s team won bronze.

Canadian medal hopes on ice

Canada’s women’s hockey team will be in action against Slovakia on Wednesday to open their tournament, trying to get back on top of the podium for the first time since 2013. 

Maggy Burbidge of StFX — who leads all of U Sports with 37 points in 17 contests — will figure to head the offence.

The forward is 13 points ahead of Mount Royal’s Tatum Amy, Saint Mary’s Shae Demale, and StFX teammate Lea MacLeod — all of whom are in a tie for second and will be teaming up with Burbidge to gun for gold in New York.

University of Montréal’s Annabel Faubert and Bishop’s University’s Marie-Camille Théorêt will be the two returning members from Canada’s silver medallist team in 2019 that fell to Russia 2-0 in the final.

The women’s team has won three straight silver medals after winning three straight gold medals since women’s hockey was added in 2009.

The Canadian men’s team — who boast their own streak of 12 straight podium finishes dating back to the 1997 games in Chonju-Muju, South Korea — will not have any returning players from the bronze-medal winning team of 2019, but will be led by U Sports leading scorer Kyle Bollers of Toronto Metropolitan University.

The all-star squad will feature seven of the top 11 scorers in the country, including forwards Liam Hawel and Matthew Struthers of StFX, Simon Lafrance of UQTR, Brett Davis of the University of Manitoba, Kyle Maksimovich of UPEI, and dynamic defenceman Matt Brassard — also of UPEI.

The Canadian men will open their tournament against Ukraine on Thursday, after the Ukrainian team completed their Hockey Can’t Stop Tour on Monday after playing the Calgary Dinos, Saskatchewan Huskies, Alberta Golden Bears and Manitoba Bisons in friendly matches.

Some of Canada’s best medal chances will come in short track speed skating, with five of the 10 entrants for Canada having experience with the Canadian national team or NextGen program.

Canada will be sending two members from the men’s national team to New York in the form of McGill University’s Jérôme Courtemanche, and Maisonneuve College’s Philippe Daudelin, who is a member of Canada’s Four Continents racing pool.

Alexandre Migner, also of Maisonneuve College, is a member of Canada’s NextGen program.

On the women’s side, two more NextGen athletes will head to Lake Placid, led by fellow Maisonneuve College attendant Anne-Clara Belley, along with Athabasca University’s Wren Acorn.

The Canadian long track team features four of eight athletes with national team experience. 

The women’s team will be led by World Cup racing pool member Laura Hall of the University of Calgary, and will also feature NextGen athletes in Anna Bourgeois and Frank Roth, both also from the University of Calgary, as well as David La Rue of Laval University.

Source : CBC