Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Russia Experience - Five Years Later

With RJay Berra and Justin Fillion in Russia for their experience of a lifetime, I was immediately reminded of another Spruce Kings alumni that was given the same opportunity back in 2006. Following his impressive rookie season in the BCHL with the Prince George Spruce Kings a then seventeen year old Jeremy Roberts was extended an invitation to play for Team Canada in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Jeremy Roberts - 2006 Team Canada
I recently caught up with Jeremy from his home in Calgary and had an opportunity to relive some of those memories of playing in Russia.

"There was lots of excitement," recalled Jeremy Roberts. "The fans just wanted to come out and see Canada play, but we were a young team and didn't do that well."

In 2006 Team Canada was made up of 22 players from across the country, Jeremy was one of only three that came from the BCHL. The team had five 17 year olds, ten 18 year olds and seven older players. There was a total of eight teams split in two pools with most teams icing full rosters of 19 and 20 year old players.

"Some teams had players that were over the age of 20," said Roberts. "We were playing against teams with lots of experience and talent. We played one of our games against the Saint Petersburg professional team."

This didn't deter from the overall experience and Jeremy admitted that it was more of a personal measuring stick.

"I was able to realize how the game changes with maturity," admitted Roberts. "They played a much different style of hockey and the older players were just so calm. I think they were toying with us at times. They used the ice well, all of the players were placed in a way that kept their options open and their passing was always on."

"I was able to see how much I had to improve my game," continued Roberts. "How I had to not get too caught up in the play and stay calm. I think the experience helped my game and I realized how much better I had to get."

A lot of the memories that Jeremy brought back home with him were about the experience away from the rink. Like the current Team Canada players, Jeremy went on sight seeing tours and was left with lasting memories about the museums, cathedrals and something that is a little harder to describe.

"There was a different culture," explains Roberts. "You could see areas where the city looked rundown and showed what they had been through. During World War II, it was the site of the (Siege of Leningrad) and suffered much destruction."

"You can see the city's pride in its history," continues Roberts. "There are military museums and cathedrals. They take great care of the cathedrals and guards keep visitors away from protected areas in the cathedrals."

Jeremy Roberts played two seasons with the Prince George Spruce Kings and was a member of the 2007 RBC Royal Bank Cup team that won silver. In the off season, Roberts was traded to the Fort McMurray Oil Barons as the completion of the future considerations that had brought Tyler Helfrich to the Spruce Kings for the National Championship.

In his four season Junior A career, Jeremy finished with 137 points (53G, 84A) in 193 games, 56 points (22G, 34A) in 95 games with the Spruce Kings. After taking a year off, Jeremy has just finished his rookie season in the CCAA League playing for the Mount Royal University in Calgary where he helped the Cougars to the ACAC League Championship.

"I had a good year," says Roberts and his point a game average supports that claim. "I took a year off and have to thank Jean Laforest (Cougars Head Coach) for letting me get back in the game. This was the first winning season I have ever played in. We almost did it in Prince George, coming close but this is the first time for me."

"I also want to thank (the Prince George Spruce Kings) and the BCHL," continued Roberts. "I got the chance to play overseas and that had a huge impact on how I play hockey."

*NOTE* The Mount Royal Cougars have a total of four Spruce Kings Alumni on their Championship team: Jeremy Roberts, Vinny Muchalla, Brenden Turnbull and Grant Toulmin.

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