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Alberta looks to keep men's hockey medal streak alive

The Canadian Press

2/15/2011 12:58:04 PM

HALIFAX -- As the men's hockey tournament enters the quarter-final round at the Canada Winter Games, Team Alberta is looking to add to an already impressive string of success.

The hockey powerhouse travelled to Halifax as the only province to have won medals in each of the past five winter competitions, dating back to 1991.

The team's quest for a sixth consecutive medal saw it compile a 3-0 record in the round-robin portion with wins over Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Manitoba.

Head coach Trevor Keeper says the reason for the ongoing success is about more than picking the most skilled athletes.

"We really put an emphasis on character and kids that are competitive and know what it means to be part of a team," he said shortly after arriving in Halifax.

"That has a lot to do with the success of Team Alberta over the last few Games, definitely."

Alberta's team won gold medals in 1999 and 2003, silver medals in 1991 and 1995, and a bronze in 2007 in the hockey tournament, which is open to players under the age of 16.

The province's performance has outstripped much bigger powers in Ontario and Quebec, which have each won three medals over the same period.

Barry Medori, who mentors coaches in Hockey Alberta's high-performance program, said the success at the under-16 level begins earlier in a player's competitive career.

He said the organization targets coaching at the grassroots level of minor hockey as a priority.

"Alberta has always tried to set a standard ... when it comes to getting quality people to work with the kids," said Medori.

He said high coaching standards, combined with increased player ice time through a school academy system, has helped to hone talent.

Like other provinces, Alberta also runs a development model aimed at identifying exceptional players.

Medori said the Alberta Cup gives 14-year-olds their first taste of a short competition like the Canada Games, which is seen as a priority.

"It is a four-year cycle that we do plan on," he said.

A majority of players on Alberta's roster has been drafted by clubs in the major junior Western Hockey League -- about 10 of them in the first round -- and most have some experience at that level although all are currently playing midget AAA.

Keeper called this age group one of the strongest that has come out of the province in recent years, saying they're fast and skilled but also big, particularly on the blue-line.

"Our No. 1 criteria when picking the team was skating mobility," he said. "It just happened to be that our defencemen also happen to have good size."

Medori expects Alberta will be a prime contender for a medal once again.

"We do produce a lot of skilled individuals, but when you take a closer look at it, we don't quit," he said. "I think Alberta are leaders when it comes to that. We don't sit back and we push for everything we can get."