Stephen Harper—the 22-year-old Acadia Axemen hockey player, not the former Prime Minister—is leaving Nova Scotia and going back home.
This week, he’ll find himself back at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, Ont., – the same rink he capped off his junior career – to represent U SPORTS in the annual two-game series against Canada’s National Junior Team hopefuls.
“I really focused on…trying to do my best so I could get named to (the U SPORTS All-Star Team),” says the centre from Burlington, Ont., a town just up the road from the Niagara region, upon learning the location of the series. “I was lucky enough to be named. It’s always special to go back to your junior place where you had so much success. It’s going to be a fun time.”
I was lucky enough to be named. It’s always special to go back to your junior place where you had so much success. It’s going to be a fun time.
While Harper is excited to play in front of family and old friends, he knows that the Dec. 13 and 14 contests will be more than just a couple of friendly contests. For the third straight year, U SPORTS will be represented by a national all-star team and the squad has significant experience outside of university hockey, as all but one player has CHL major junior experience. For the first time ever, the coaching staff also had no conference quota to adhere to when selecting the roster, meaning they could pick the best players from across the country without worrying about meeting geographic requirements.
Head coach Brad Peddle, who also serves as the bench boss at St. Francis Xavier University, says the flexibility in picking this year’s roster was certainly beneficial. While reflecting on what else will allow his team to succeed, he emphasizes the fact that nearly a third of the team are returning players, whom he says will “absolutely” help to potentially secure two wins.
“The players that were there last year saw the level and experienced the pace of how the game was played," says Coach Peddle. “We can rely on those guys to certainly bring some experience to this year’s group.”
The players that were there last year saw the level and experienced the pace of how the game was played. We can rely on those guys to certainly bring some experience to this year’s group.
Peddle - U SPORTS All Star Coach
Spencer Abraham, a law student from Queen’s University, is one of the six veterans whom Coach Peddle is referring to. As one of only two men who will have played on all three of the U SPORTS All-Star teams since 2015 against the Canadian World Junior prospects, he arguably has the biggest chip on his shoulder heading into the upcoming games.
“I kind of take a lot of pride in (U SPORTS) hockey,” says the 24-year-old, who scored the shootout-winning goal in a 5-4 victory two years ago, helping U SPORTS earn a split with Team Canada that year. “A lot of people don’t really understand how good it is. (This series) is an opportunity to showcase what the league is all about.”
He adds that, despite what some people may think, university hockey is not “the end of the road.”
I kind of take a lot of pride in (U SPORTS) hockey. A lot of people don’t really understand how good it is. (This series) is an opportunity to showcase what the league is all about.
“It’s a developmental league as well,” he says, comparing U SPORTS to the CHL. “It’s just the beginning to what I think could be a long professional career for a lot of players.”
Discussing his future and the future of his teammates, the defenceman says that being a part of U SPORTS means being able to simultaneously pursue academic and athletic careers. While working toward both can certainly be stressful—Abraham and Harper express their concerns over the games falling in the middle of exam season—Abraham says it’s a worthwhile undertaking.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to be like Ken Dryden, who was a practicing lawyer while playing in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens,” says Abraham. “To go out there and to showcase my abilities from a hockey perspective after showcasing my abilities on a legal perspective all week writing exams is kind of a nice break and a nice opportunity to test myself in both regards.”
It’s a great opportunity for them, not just to represent U SPORTS and to represent their institutions, but to represent themselves.
The games will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT and Thursday, Dec. 14 at 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, Ont.
Kaitlin is a recent graduate of Western University’s Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program. She now works as the communications manager for her local MPP, and keeps in touch with her love for sports and journalism as a U SPORTS Contributor.