U18 Preview Through The Two Eyes of Peter Loubardias


Do you have a sports bucket list? Something that if you had all the money in the world, you would go year after year. Or, event after event. Seeing the biggest names on the biggest stage is the ultimate for all of us as sports fans.

Here are some of mine. World Cup Soccer. Super Bowl. World Series. Stanley Cup. Note, these are all professional sporting events. Where the biggest and the brightest superstars play.

How many would have these three?

U-18’s, Hlinka-Gretzky, World Juniors.

That is what Peter Loubardias would do. He would see these three events every year. And when you know someone who has the type of knowledge, and the type of passion for this event, you want to sit and speak with them.

The World Juniors is appointment viewing for all Canadians over Christmas. But for Loubardias, the Hlinka-Gretzky and the U-18’s are things he also gets out of bed for.

“I could go on for four hours about the players I’m excited for. The countries I’m excited for. I love this event. I absolutely love these events”

Anyone who has spent an hour as I did with the radio color commentator for the Calgary

Flames know that is true. He can tell you how many times he’s seen a player. When he first saw them as well.

So who better to get a perspective on this tournament than the man they call Lou.

The first thing we discussed is the importance of this tournament this year. Players with limited games. Does this tournament carry more weight? Will the players have more pressure on them?

“There are two things that are quite important. If you are a player that is eligible for the upcoming National Hockey League draft, depending on your team. Depending on how much you have played. Do I think that this event is more important than it has in the past? Absolutely yes. Especially for the young men who have had limited, or in some cases, not even played yet this year. I’m not sure from that perspective that the draft has ever been more important.

“Anyone who knows me knows I love the international sport. I love international hockey. And I love, as close as you can, best on best situations. For the kids involved, it’s an unbelievable opportunity. Canada does not have access to 2 or 3 players in particular from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. This is an event that generally every year that the United States dominates. Their whole program is based around this tournament. Canada doesn’t always have access to their best players because of the CHL playoffs.”

“This is a long-winded way of saying yes. For scouts in particular. Because they haven’t had the viewings. If you are a scout, it’s not the be-all and end-all. But, when you have a chance to compare the elite to the elite, those always hold a lot of weight.

It was interesting to note own opening day in Plano how many scouts filled the strands for the game between Sweden and Belarus. There were no tickets sold to the public for the Pool-A games. And there were many scouts in the stands. From my viewing, it felt like some players may have been trying to impress the scouts. How do players just play and not press?

“It depends on their makeup. Everyone handles pressure very differently. I can say that at every single level. Including the National Hockey League and being around the game my whole entire life. In some cases, will they feel more pressure? I think they will. Because of limited touches or limited games. But the exciting thing is what a true testament it is for those who find a way to win in this situation to be at their best and provide their best.”

The easiest way to start with the player perspective is to go with Connor Bedard.  However, I choose a different route. The first player I asked about was one of the players with an A. Logan Stankoven.

“When you put a letter on someone in a Team Canada situation, it says a lot about who you are. Your maturity, and what you are going to bring to the team. It’s interesting you start with him. He’s had an outstanding season. All be it, limited. I like his speed. I like his playmaking ability. My first viewing was the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer. Which a great deal of this Canadian class is on display. I liked him then. What I have written down in front of me is I could see him scoring a big goal or two in this event. He might be someone in your top 9 in a very deep forward group. I have a gut feeling he may make some really significant contributions as this tournament goes down the road.

Next, we talked about the highest-ranked WHL prospect. Edmonton Oil Kings Dylan Guenther.

Dylan Guenther drives the net on Liam Hughes (Photo-Andy Devlin)

“Huge fan. I watched him a couple of times in games against the Hitmen. I love his hockey IQ. He’s always around the puck. He’s got a great nose for it. His playmaking ability has grown over the last couple of years. Looks like he will be on the top line with Shane Wright and Brennan Othmann. He can shoot it. He’s around it. Like the way that he skates. It will not surprise me if his name is the first forward called in the month of July.

Since they were going to be linemates, we had to speak about the Captain. Shane Wright.

Remember he’s an UNDERAGE captain of the team. He did not make the junior team last year but was very close. I’ve watched Shane in two different events. 3 occasions at the Canada Winter Games and was incredibly impressed. And then watched him twice last November at the World U-17 Challenge in Medicine Hat.”

I don’t generally love comparisons to NHL players sometimes. But the first guy that comes to mind is Patrice Bergeron. He’s so smart. He’s so positionally sound. He’s been a leader of every single team he’s ever played on and has played on an age group that is at least one year older than him. You can rely on him.”

Over the next couple of weeks, and for those that have not seen Shane. His mom and dad can call their travel agent immediately and book a trip to Edmonton next Christmas. Because he will be playing at the next World Junior. But if Canada will have success in this tournament, Shane Wright will have his stick, hands, feet, all over it. I love this player.”

Now, we get to the expected first pick of the 2023 draft. Connor Bedard. Similar to Derek, I wanted to start with the competition perspective. Is it fair to question that?

“I’ve heard it. And I look at it this way. Yes, it is fair. He didn’t play those 15 games against a wide array of opponents. I’ve watched him three or four times in the bubble in Regina. I’ve watched him against some comparable opponents. I’ve watched him matched up with Peyton Krebs. I’ve also watched him against the East Division Champion Brandon Wheat Kings.”

It’s a really good place to start. I am beyond excited to watch Connor because this is different. This is a world-class, elite competition. Remember the last double underage player played for Canada? Connor McDavid in 2013. I’m not making that comparison because  McDavid had two hat tricks and 14 points and the tournament MVP. There is only one McDavid.”

However, during the pre-tournament game against Finland, I’m watching the game. And what I like to do sometimes is watch without the roster in front of me. Early in the first, I noticed this guy wearing 17 is pretty good. That guy was Connor Bedard. He was very noticeable and I’m really excited to watch him in this situation, The first of a few where he will be representing hows country.”

We then turned to defence. And there were two specific players we discussed. The first was Corson Ceulemans. But like Derek, I wanted to get his perspective on the overall success of the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL.

“There’s a lot of different aspects of development. And one of those that I don’t think can ever be taken for granted is when you are around a lot of high-level people on an everyday basis it forces you to get better. It’s played a role for Cale. But Cale could have played anywhere. If you remember, he could have played with Medicine Hat.”

Corson has high-end offensive ability. Loves to get up in the rush. Can shoot it. Has good size. The only question mark is his ability to defend. This will be a great opportunity. It looks like he’s going to be in Canada’s top 4 and with Prince Albert Raider Defenceman Nolan Allen.

I see Corson Ceulemans as a really key piece. If he has the ability to elevate his play, it will really translate well. When you go up against the big teams in an event of this nature at a high level, I always feel that your top 4 has to be in great stead, And you have to be able to defend high-level people. This will be the most stern and best opportunity he’s had.”

I also had to ask about who Jamie Neugebauer called the best rookie we didn’t know about, Denton Mateychuk. Not surpassingly, Peter did know him

“One of my best buddies on Planet Earth is a gentleman by the name of Kelly Remple. A massive Moose Jaw Warriors fan. He went to a camp at 15 and said “Peter, you better keep an eye on this guy

I have watched him 4 or 5 times in the bubble. I love how he plays. Excellent skater. Great feel for the game. Anytime you are a 16-year-old in the WHL, and I know the Warriors are an up-and-coming team, a top-pairing defenceman at 16, that’s nothing to sneeze at. I like his poise. The moment doesn’t seem too big for him. He’s going to get bigger and stronger. He makes good decisions. He gets pucks through screens. Gets pucks to the net. Makes good plays. Some games are better than others, but he doesn’t look overwhelmed. The moment doesn’t look too big.”

We then went to the place that is the question mark. Goaltending. What will be the strategy? /will there be a battle?

This one is the hardest for me to handicap. Coming out of the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer and even through last season, I would have thought Benjamin Gaudreau would have had a pad up. I thought he was one of the top guys in the 15-year-old age group. But because he hasn’t played, that makes it really difficult.

“There will be nothing that surprises me. Milic is off to a good start in Seattle. Tyler Brennan has done well We’ll see how it goes. I’ll be really interested to see who gets the nod. Do I think it could change? Absolutely.

This led naturally to the pool. Canada is in Pool A with Sweden, Belarus, Latvia, and Switzerland. Poll B, which is stronger, is the USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Finland, and Germany. In terms of goaltending, this could be an advantage for Canada.

“It might give Canada some more experimentation time to sort that out.”

The pools are very similar to last year’s World Juniors where Canada was in the weaker of the two, pools. Which would you rather be on?

I would always prefer to be in the tougher pool. Two reasons. One is to prepare you for the playoff rounds. Two, talked a lot about the crossover. Regardless, it’s not going to be easy from the get-go.

When you go back to 2020 World Juniors in the Czech Republic. They beat the US in the opening game., Lost 6-0 to the Russians. Had a dog fight with the Czech’s.

The quarter final’s min many ways are the big game. If you look at the history of the tournament, Canada has gone 4-0 and lost in the quarter-final.”

The one thing I didn’t discuss with Derek but did with Peter is a player we both watched when we were younger. The Head Coach Dave Barr.

“I love David. I dealt with him a lot going back to his time in Guelph. A great communicator. Highly experienced. I remember him when he played with the Detroit Red Wings. A savvy, smart, hard-working, intelligent guy then. He’s taught me a lot over the years. We had some great visits when I was the National voice of the Canadian Hockey League. He would show me and Sam Cosentino things on video. He’s a quality coach and an even better human being.”

I then asked him about other players in the tournament. His answer.

“Do you have six hours?”

To go back to the sports bucket list. For years, I’ve listened to Peter talk on Sportsnet 960 in Calgary. I’ve heard him do play-by-play and color commentary with the Flames. I’ve heard his draft conversations with Sam Cosentino. I’ve heard the passion on those airwaves, So I felt like I was prepared for an in-depth conversation. But to experience, the depth of that knowledge was on another level. We could have spent another six hours on this. And we would have been half-finished.

To see this tournament through as Peter often says, his own two eyes are a must. It is ultimately the first seed of many of the journey for many players to get to the next level in hockey. But the type of people they ultimately become outside of hockey.

I learned why this tournament is a must-watch. Not only because of who wins. But because this is the start of the growth of the brightest and the best superstars we will want to see on our sports bucket lists for years to come.

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