For the fifth consecutive year, Hockey Canada’s World Junior prospects are set to play the U SPORTS All-Stars, all of whom have experience in one of the three leagues that comprise the CHL.
Among the 22 players selected to the All-Star roster is former Kamloops Blazers captain Collin Shirley, who is now in his third year playing for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
Shirley’s WHL career began in Cranbrook with the Kootenay Ice before a trade landed him in Kamloops, where he accumulated 103 goals and 207 points in 273 regular season games, including 13 points in 13 playoff games.
2019 is the second consecutive year that the Saskatoon native has been assigned to the U SPORTS All-Star team, and the opportunity is not being taken lightly.
“It’s a quick tournament. We have 22 guys and our goal is to go out there and beat them and play hard against them every game.”
While Shirley admits that the main goal of the series is to support Hockey Canada’s group of prospects, the U19’s aren’t the only ones with something to prove at the annual event.
“It’s not just stuff on the line for them but for us guys too. There are lots of scouts and people watching so I think it’s just something to keep in mind, and obviously, we’re not going to change the way we play.”
Based on recent history, there appears to be little reason for change. The U SPORTS All-Stars have won four of the last five games and clinched two consecutive series. This time around, Shirley will be reunited with former teammate and Blazer Ryan Rehill.
“I actually texted him when the roster got released, just joking around about being teammates. We didn’t think we would be again. We’re always archrivals with us against the U of A, so it should be a fun time.”
As Shirley anticipates reconnecting with Rehill off the ice, he’s equally excited about not having to play against the defenceman for a change. “It’s not fun going into the corners with him.”
His statement comes from experience. Shirley’s Huskies have rattled off eight consecutive victories yet remain four points back of Rehill’s Golden Bears for first in the Canada West Conference.
While catching up to the reigning David Johnston University Cup Champions is the top priority on the ice, completing his third year in the business program is Shirley’s center of attention away from the rink.
“Right now, I’m just focused on finishing up my school and having been here with the Huskies — we’re tied for second place, we’re right behind U of A again — our goal is to win the Canada West title and then move onto nationals for a championship. That’s the first thing on my mind right now.”
Where life takes him after the third year remains to be seen, but turning a few heads in Oakville, Ontario, Dec. 9-12 could be a positive step as Shirley contemplates pursuing a career in professional hockey.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine to go play after school. You play quite a bit over the years and I don’t think I’m ready — definitely not ready to give that up. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and for me, it’s just getting the best thing.”
Saskatoon may just be one stop of many along his journey, but it could very well be the “best thing” for the 23-year-old right now.
“I made the decision to come here, and I think that was kind of a no brainer. I love the city. I loved growing up here.”
Of course, it helps to play on a competitive team while still enjoying downtime away from the rink.
“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey. It’s different — it’s not as much of a grind as the WHL was. It’s a good time for you to focus on your studies and training, which is pretty nice after five years in the Western league. It’s great and I’ve loved every second of it.”
The five-year grind in the WHL eventually paid itself off in the form of a scholarship that Shirley and his family were highly motivated to take advantage of.
“For me, I think it was something I wanted to get done. It was preached by my family since I was young and they wanted that for me. For me to be able to use that scholarship, come back home and complete a degree, was pretty important to me.”
Did the home-cooked meals play a factor in his decision to come back to Saskatoon?
“Oh absolutely,” Shirley chuckled. “I got the basement suite so I’m enjoying that right now and mom’s cooking is still going strong.”