Kupka, Kendall invited to Canada West tryout
Camrose Kodiaks forward Jacob Kendall is one of 60 players invited to the Canada West team tryouts in Calgary Dec. 2-5 for the World Junior A Challenge in Truro, N.S., from Dec. 10-16. File photo/ Camrose Canadian
A pair of Camrose hockey players are out to prove they belong alongside the best junior A players in the country.
Kyler Kupka and Jacob Kendall were invited to try out for the Canada West team for the 2017 World Junior A Challenge. The challenge goes Dec. 10-16 in Truro, N.S., but the camp goes Dec. 2-5 in Calgary, where they will be joined by 58 other players from the B.C. Hockey League, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
“It’s impressive to see two of them that are going right from Camrose and both getting a tryout for Team Canada West, both getting to play junior hockey in their city,” said Kodiaks head coach and general manager Boris Rybalka. “It puts a smile on my face being a Camrosian to see two kids from Camrose that have a great future ahead of them.”
For Kupka, it is the second year he has been invited, and though he didn’t make the team last year, he is coming in with a lot of motivation to crack the roster this time around.
“Everyone is pretty skilled and fast and good, but you’re one of them, you have to believe in yourself,” said Kupka. “Last year I was star struck around everyone … and I found myself blending in and not trying to stand out. But you’ve got to believe in yourself and try your best. Blending in is the worst thing you can do when you are trying out for a team.”
Kupka has not quite had the season he was hoping for, scoring 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 27 games. He was a finalist for AJHL rookie of the year last season despite rupturing a spleen and missing the second half of the campaign. The five-foot-11, 172-pound forward was also invited to the Canadian Junior Hockey League prospects game last year, but was forced to miss it due to the injury.
“It has been a little bit of a slow start for me and the team here, but things are picking up here and it’s only uphill from here,” said Kupka.
Head coach and general manager Boris Rybalka is still impressed with the steps Kupka has taken this year in coming back from his injury.
“People forget he had to get in shape, also … the last time he was able to do any cardio was roughly a year ago,” said Rybalka. “I see huge strides for him. He may not be totally happy with his output of offence, but that’s why he’s a great athlete … and that’s why he is going to be successful not only as an athlete but when he moves on in life, because he demands more of himself.”
Kendall has been a revelation for the Kodiaks this season. The six-foot-one, 188-pound forward has taken the step from third liner to the first line this year and has already eclipsed his scoring titles from his rookie season. He is fourth on the Kodiaks with 20 points (11-9-20) in 27 games and has 61 penalty minutes to go with it. It took him 51 games to score 14 points (7-7-14) in 2016-17.
He knows he will have his work cut out for him in Calgary.
“I want to make the team, there’s a lot of exposure. There will be a lot of people there, you want to go hard,” said Kendall. “You’re playing against good players so you want to bring your best too and try and do what you do best.”
Rybalka says Kendall has been integral to their game plan this season and he has taken on an even bigger role with top centreman and power forward Ryan Hartman out for the past month with a concussion.
“You can see it in games, as an 18-year-old he is dominating in corners … people are trying to whack and knock him down but he comes out of the corners with the puck,” said Rybalka. “He’s taking huge strides and it’s going to be exciting for me and all hockey fans to ... continue watching his growth and where he ends up.”
Kendall is looking forward to the opportunity and sees this as the first step to living out a dream.
“Every boy dreams of representing their country ... after having a good start this year, it was one of my goals to get invited to that,” he said. “Now the real fun starts when I go to camp.”
Rybalka says it is a dream that should be within reach for both of his two young players.
“When you’re in a short-term competition, it’s the intangibles that are going to win you a gold medal or are going to give you the opportunity to win a gold medal for your country,” said Rybalka. “I look at those two young boys … and I know I would be taking them or choosing them to play for our country because I know what they can do and I know they have the intangibles that you need.”