The captain for Team Canada at the Ball Hockey World Championship will lead by example.
“I’m going to do what I always do on my team which is just play to win and do whatever I can to win. Hopefully the other guys see that and can feed off of it,” said Joel Andresen of St. Albert and defenceman for the Edmonton Savages, national A champions the last two years. “I want to help lead a group that bonds well and has some chemistry so that we win the gold medal.”
The 13th-annual International Street & Ball Hockey Federation tournament runs June 14 to 22 at Kosice, Slovakia.
“We meet in Toronto, before we head over to Slovakia, for team meetings and bonding and some practices and then we’ll practise again when we’re in Slovakia, but up until now we had some group chats and we’ve been doing some video stuff so everyone can kind of get to know each other a bit better,” said Andresen, the all-star defenceman at nationals in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and last year’s tournament MVP.
The 22-man roster includes Landen Burkley and Scott Holben, a pair of forwards with the Savages, defenceman Bill Marshall of Calgary and Danick Martel, a forward from Drummondville, Que., who played in nine National Hockey League games with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season and four the year before with the Philadelphia Flyers, plus 203 games in the American Hockey League with two teams in his pro career.
At the 2017 worlds, Martel led Canada in scoring with seven goals and five assists in seven games and was named the tournament’s top scorer and best forward.
Defenceman Cody Donaghey and forwards Zach O’Brien and Marcus Power of St. John’s Nfld., played in the East Coast Hockey League this season and Power was a member of the ECHL championship-winning Newfoundland Growlers.
Worlds are held every second year and players are mainly scouted the year before the championship at various tournaments.
“The main one is the national championship and in the past Alberta, and especially Edmonton, teams didn’t have much success so we had very little representation with Team Canada and then over the last few years we’ve really started to build a really strong team in Edmonton and three years ago winning a bronze at nationals I was kind of hoping to maybe get selected for Team Canada, but it didn’t happen and then we won back-to-back national championships so after last summer, at the second national championship, I got selected, which was very exciting,” said Andresen, one of the elder statesmen on Team Canada at age 36. “The majority are in their 20s for sure.”
As for the captain’s crest on his jersey, “I thought I might be getting a letter, but it was a surprise to be named team captain with this being my first tournament and I’m honoured,” said the St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus.
Slovakia is the three-time defending champion after defeating Canada 6-4 in Pardubice, Czech Republic, for its fourth gold medal.
The fifth and last gold for Canada was celebrated in 2007.
“At worlds, there is the big three which is Canada, Slovakia and Czech Republic, so if you look at the medal winners (since the first worlds in 1996) it’s almost always those three that are gold, silver, bronze,” Andresen said.
This year’s championship consists of 10 countries split into two pools and in the preliminary round Canada plays Greece, Switzerland, Italy and Haiti. The other pool features Slovakia, Czech Republic, United States, Finland and Great Britain.
Games are two 20-minute stop-time periods.
“Obviously, with Slovakia hosting this year, probably Canada and Slovakia are sort of the favourites on paper but we’ll see how it goes,” Andresen said. “It’s a different world over there in terms of ball hockey, whereas a lot of people here don’t even know about it. It might be bigger than ice hockey in Slovakia and it’s quite big in the Czech Republic as well.
“Everything will be televised over there. It’s at the same rink as the ice hockey world championship (last month) so they will be selling out or having pretty full crowds for the Slovakia games.”
Andresen’s ball hockey roots started at a young age.
“I grew up playing street hockey every day. I played more street hockey than ice hockey as a kid and always loved it,” said the 2001/02 Alberta Junior Hockey League’s defenceman of the year with the St. Albert Saints.
“After I played at the U of A (with the 2004/05 CIU champion Golden Bears), that summer was the first year I got brought out (to play in an organized league) and I really enjoyed it right away and then the following summer I started playing a little more competitively and it just kind of built up year after year. I still played a lot of senior ice hockey (with the River Cree Warriors, Lloydminster Border Kings, Stony Plain Eagles, Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs and Macklin Mohawks) after that, but once I got out of it, the semi-pro and university hockey, I really got into ball hockey and loved it and just stuck with it,” said Andresen, who also spent time with the NCAA division one University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL and Fuessen EV in Germany.
“You can make a lot of really, really fun plays out there,” Andresen added. “I’m also very, very competitive and I love that about it, too.”
Andresen was initially slotted as a centre in ball hockey despite patrolling the blueline in ice hockey.
“My foot speed has slowed a little bit and I wasn’t able to score I guess at the pace that I could before and I was able to make more of an impact moving back to D so about five or six years ago I transitioned back to defence,” said the self-described two-way defenceman. “I would say the bread and butter of my game is my defensive play and then my passing both out of the zone and through the neutral zone and also playing on the power play as well.”
The 2002 NHL draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in round five, 157th overall, showcases his skills year-round in the Ball Hockey Edmonton spring league, Sports Dome Ball Hockey League and Old Skool Hockey League.
Ball Hockey Edmonton is the top circuit in the city and the Savages are winners of five of the last six spring championships. In 2016, the Savages were the first Edmonton team since 2002 to win a national medal by taking home bronze from the Vancouver tournament, followed by gold-medal victories in 2017 in St. Johns, N.B. and 2018 in Winnipeg.
“It was a huge accomplishment. Alberta really struggled to even compete in those tournaments and went probably four or five years in a row where we didn’t really have success but year after year we kind of got a little bit better, a little more competitive, and then to finally win a bronze and then back to back national championships was extremely rewarding,” Andresen said. “When we won the bronze, a lot of teams in the country still didn’t recognize us and when we won the first national championship (3-2 over the Vancouver Falcons as the first national champions from Alberta since the tournament started in 1978) maybe some people thought it was a little bit of a fluke and then last year we absolutely dominated the elimination game (4-1 over NL Black Horse in the final). We really won in a dominated fashion it was really rewarding for everyone on our team.”
This year’s nationals are Aug. 5 to 10 in St. John’s, Nfld.
“We expect to be bringing a really strong team again with the goal to three-peat,” Andresen said.
Nationals are like a Stanley Cup tournament for the participants.
“It’s a mix of players. It’s not all former ice hockey players but there are a lot of good former ice hockey players – American league, East Coast league, college, what have you – but there is also some really good players who just grew up playing ball hockey. They played ball hockey in minor league, which I didn’t do, and they played very little ice hockey," said Andresen, a commercial real estate appraiser with Colliers International Realty Advisors Inc.
"Games are very intense at the national level and I guess that’s something I really enjoy. I just love those tournaments.”