by Manny Brizuela

(Deakan Fielder)

Playing for your home country produces a feeling that resonates deeply within the fibers of any athlete’s determination. It’s usually not about the recognition that comes hand-in-hand with playing at the international stage; more so, it’s about the opportunity to give back.

The makeup of a world junior squad is not always as consistent, or in sync, as a club team. Players from around the world are selected for their individual talents and are expected to collaborate toward the same goal in such little time.

The talent and skill that takes a player to the international stage certainly doesn’t transpire without help. Years of waking up early, listening to your parents, your coaches, mentors and even beloved fans has prepared the athlete for the moment that those talents finally disperse into success—for junior hockey players that moment is often at the world juniors.

And it’s at the world juniors that the people who saw their athlete grow and persist into something great, get to gaze and admire.

The IIHF World Junior Championship that featured Jack Hughes, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and many more, commenced earlier this month but is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to world junior competition.    

The Western States Hockey League has its share of representation in world junior competition with 10 reported players selected to represent their respective nations.

(Arvidas Domeika)

The Dallas Snipers have a league leading four players selected to international play with Leo Selitaj, Arvidas Domeika, Karolis Krasilnikovas and Axel Orongan.

(Axel Orongan)

Selitaj (8G-7A-15P), a left shooting winger, was selected to skate for his country of Croatia-U20; the only current WSHL player to represent Croatia at this stage. Croatia is in Division-II, Group B, and finished second place in their division.  For Selitaj, it was a mere trip home with Croatia hosting the tournament. Selitaj registered 2G-3A-5P including two game winning goals with Croatia. 

(Leo Selitaj)

Domeika and Krasilnikovas were both given the nod to represent Lithuania-U20. Domeika (7G-8A-15P) has defended for the Snipers through 21 games and proven he can be offensively productive from the blue line. Domeika netted a power play tally with Lithuania in a 7-1 win over Korea on Jan 19.

 Krasilnikovas has seen a few more games, having played in 27, and was given the call to skate for Lithuania with a stat line of 10G-18A-28P. Lithuania is in Division-II, Group A, and finished second place among their field. Lithuania entered the tournament as the top seed but endured a crucial setback against eventual champions, Estonia.  

(Karolis Krasilnikovas) 

Axel Orongan has played the least games, with the Snipers, out of the four, but still shines in with 8G-9A-17P. Orongan represents Iceland who competes in Division-III. Orgongan turned into a crucial offensive weapon for Iceland having the second most points in the team. He had 5G-8A-13P in five games including two GWG. 

(Harry Gulliver, left)

The Ogden Mustangs had three players awarded national duty in Harry Gulliver, Artur Ogandzhanyan and Nikita Boyko.

Harry Gulliver has played through 30 games with the Mustangs and has collected 18G-23A-41P. The native of Essex, Great Britain, is accompanied by Fresno Monster’s point man, Deakan Fielder (3G-10A-13P).

Gulliver had 1G-1A in five games for Great Britain as the Brits suffered an opening game loss to Lithuania and a monstrous 13-1 win over Korea the next outing. Great Britain couldn't get over the single digit hump, points-wise, but placed third in their division. 

Fielder did not get on the board but was a reassuring presence in the back end garnering a +5 rating in his world junior campaign. 

The second man out of the Mustangs is Kazakhstan native, Nikita Boyko. Only 18 years old, Boyko will play defense at the U-18 Division-I level. France is the host nation and that tournament will start on April 14.

(Artur Ogandzhanyan)

Ogden’s stalwart netminder, Artur Ogandzhanyan, made the cut for international play with Ukraine back in December. The Division-I, Group B, Ukranian side finished fifth place, however, Ogandzhanyan was one of the top goaltenders in his division with a .914 SV%.  

The Southern Oregon Spartans have Sarp Demirezen named to the Turkey U20 world junior squad. Turkey won their first game of the tournament versus Chinese Taipei and since then, Demirezen added 2G-1A-3P to his name. Turkey could not overcome China in the playoff portion of the tournament but finished third with a 6-0 win over Bulgaria. Demirezen opened the scoring in Turkey's medal game, which was assisted by none other than fellow WSHLer, Hakan Salt, of the Cheyenne Stampede. 

Salt brought his game to the world juniors as the Stampede's defenseman garnered 3G-3A-6P. The 2000 born forward will be a strong candidate for more World Junior competition over the next 2 years. 

(Sarp Demirezen) 

(Hakan Salt)

Playing at the international stage develops players in unique ways that not everybody can say they have endured or accomplished. The WSHL is dedicated and fully supports the development of its players, and continues to provide a competitive field of play for its international players to further define themselves as athletes. 

*All WSHL teams were contacted and asked to provide the league with a list of their WJC players on Jan. 11. Thank you to all players who sent in their pictures.