A pair of players who grew up in the Tri-Cities will skate for Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championships that begin May 13 in Helsinki, Finland.
Coquitlam’s Mathew Barzal, who plays for the NHL’s New York Islanders, and Port Moody’s Kent Johnson have been named to Canada’s 24-man roster that seeks to defend the gold medal it won at last year’s tournament in Belarus and Latvia.
Neither player is a stranger to wearing the red maple leaf.
Barzal played at the 2018 world championships in Denmark where Canada finished fourth. When he was playing junior with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western Hockey League, he was an alternate captain for Canada’s silver medal-winning team at the 2017 World Junior Championships in Montreal and Toronto.
Barzal also has bronze medals from the 2014 and 2015 IIHF World U18 Championships and a gold medal from the 2014 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament that annually showcases some of the top young hockey players in the world.
Barzal finished his fifth full season with the Islanders with 15 goals and 44 assists in 73 games. The team missed the NHL playoffs.
Johnson will be pulling on a Canada jersey for the third time in the past five months. He represented his country at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, and last December he scored a goal in Canada’s 11-2 win over Austria at the World Junior Championships in Edmonton before the tournament was subsequently cancelled because of a COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson signed an entry-level contract with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, which selected him fifth overall in the 2021 draft the day after his University of Michigan Wolverines were eliminated from the NCAA’s Frozen Four national championship tournament. In his first nine games as a professional, he compiled three assists and one penalty.
As a sophomore at Michigan, Johnson totalled 37 points in 32 games.
Coquitlam goalie also a world champion — for China
Meanwhile, Coquitlam goalie Paris O’Brien recently helped lead China to a gold medal at the 2022 IIHF Division II Group A world championship in Zagreb, Croatia.
O’Brien, 22, allowed only four goals in four games as China romped to wins over Israel, the Netherlands, Spain and host Croatia. The team, comprised of players of Chinese heritage from the Beijing-based Kunlun Red Star that is part of the professional Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia, scored 28 goals, half of them in a 14-1 victory over Israel.
China now moves up to compete in Division I for the first time since 2007, where it will be in Group B against teams like Japan, Ukraine, Estonia and Serbia.
O’Brien, who grew up in Coquitlam’s Westwood Plateau neighbourhood and played Midget hockey at the Burnaby Winter Club before moving to a hockey academy at South Delta Secondary School in 2017, was plucked for development in the Red Star program by former NHL coach and general manager Mike Keenan following a try-out at the Scotiabank Barn in Burnaby.
Last December he made his debut in the KHL and in February he appeared in two games for China at the 2022 Winter Olympics that included a start against Canada. Following that 5-0 loss, O’Brien took over from starter Jeremy Smith for the final two periods in another loss to Canada, 7-2, which eliminated the team from the tournament.