If you’re going through Olympics withdrawals, there is one event starting this Thursday that might help quell the flare up of your addiction.
It’s called the Winter Universiade, a combination of the words “university” and “Olympiad.”
Organized by the International University Sports Federation and also called the World University Games, it is exactly what you might think it is: an international sports competition for university athletes.
Unlike the Olympics, the Universiades have been taking place every two years since they began in 1959.
The summer and winter games used to alternate on a rotating schedule, but began to occur in the same year on a regular basis in 1981.
This year, the summer games will be in Shenzhen, China, while the winter games will be in Erzurum, Turkey, about 900 kilometres away from the capital city, Ankara.
The 25th winter games will last a week and feature 11 different sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, ice hockey, curling, ski jumping, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, snowboarding, freestyle skiing, figure skating and short track speed skating.
The Canadian team consists of 100 athletes who attend school mostly in Canada, but also in the U.S., as well as 28 coaches, team leaders and staff.
Erin Lally, the leading scorer on the women’s hockey team, is the only Stingers athlete who will be attending the games, and the first to do so in women’s hockey.
Lally, who is studying art history, didn’t make the team at first. When another player dropped out, she was the first choice on the list of alternates.
“When my coach pulled me aside [and told me I was on the team], it was amazing,” she explained.
The Calgary native has been abroad to play hockey before, but never in a competitive tournament.
Meanwhile, women’s hockey head coach Les Lawton will lead the women’s hockey contingent as the head coach. This isn’t his first foray into coaching international hockey ? most notably, he was at the helm of Team Canada when they won gold at the World Championships in 1994.
Lawton only met his team on Sunday, when he and Lally flew out to Frankfurt on their way to Erzurum.
They held a practice yesterday, and will practice again today and tomorrow and may also do a pre-game skate before their first game on Thursday.
Getting a team to click and play well together in so little time could be an issue, and Lawton acknowledged that.
“There are a number of players that are familiar with each other… so we’ll probably start off with them playing together and make adjustments as we move along throughout the tournament. It’s going to be challenging, but we’re really excited about the group that we have and I think that if we can pull them together and get everyone on the same page, we’ll be alright.”
Three of the players come from the country’s first-place team, McGill, and four are from second-place Laurier.
Unlike the women’s squad, which is comprised of players from across the country, the players on the men’s team come from different conferences in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport organization that are chosen on a rotating basis, and this year it’s the Ontario University Athletics’ turn.
The Stingers are part of the OUA, and men’s hockey head coach Kevin Figsby was named one of Team Canada’s assistant coaches.
Happy to be in a supporting role, Figsby understands the weight associated with representing Canada in an international tournament.
“Every time we step on the ice, everybody knows they’re playing for their country,” he said.
The leading scorer on the men’s hockey team, Charles-Antoine Messier, was also invited to try out for Team Canada, but didn’t make the cut. After being called back and asked to play, he declined because of his workload at school and a recent injury he sustained.
During the last Games in 2009, the men lost to Russia in the finals, while the women went undefeated and captured the title.
Both the men’s and women’s hockey teams will be in action on the opening day, with the men taking on Slovenia and the women playing Finland.
The games get underway Jan. 27 with the opening ceremonies which will start at 8 p.m. Eastern European time, or 1 p.m. here in Montreal. They will wrap up on Feb. 6.
Check out the CIS’ website at english.cis-sic.ca/universiade/winter/index for all your Team Canada highlights.