Braden Purtill was standing on the blue line when it hit him — he was playing in an international tournament.
The 16-year-old left winger said the realization he was part of Team West at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge sunk in as the squad was just about to drop the puck against the powerful Team Sweden on New Year’s Day. Team West pulled off an upset, 3-2, for its only win of the group stage, and later knocked off Team Germany 4-3 in the ninth-place game to finish with a 2-3 record overall.
The tournament was held in Sydney and Port Hawkesbury, N.S. from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4.
Purtill was used as an energy player throughout the tournament, and though he didn’t factor in any of Team West’s nine goals in the tournament, felt he contributed to the team in other ways.
"(I learned) consistency — you’ve got a game a day in a short period of time, and it’s challenging, but you learn a lot about yourself," Purtill said. "I thought I learned good stuff about myself. I played pretty consistent."
Purtill, who grew up in Transcona, said getting the call informing him he’d made the team was a "surreal feeling".
Though there are five Canadian teams at the tournament — Pacific, West, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic — all wear the traditional maple leaf jersey, and Purtill appreciated the opportunity to compete against fellow Canadians and teams from five other nations for the championship.
"(The highlight) was being able to represent Canada. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to be able to do that," he said.
Purtill’s main club is the Kennewick, Wash.-based Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, where he had five goals and four assists in 35 games as of Jan. 15. This is Purtill’s first full season with the club, though he dipped his toes in last season, but was scoreless in three contests.
As one of the Americans’ youngest members, he’s working to reward his coaches’ faith for having him on the squad.
"I’m getting lots of opportunities to play, and as a 16-year-old, lots don’t really get that opportunity," he said. "I’m working extremely hard in practice and it’s paying off for me."
Purtill said it was challenging jumping up from the Winnipeg Thrashers midget AAA team to the WHL, where players can be as old as 21 in their final seasons.
He felt he really settled in earlier this season when a rash of injuries forced him into an unusual situation.
"We had some injuries and coach (Jim Hiller) put me back on defence (for 11 games)," recalled Purtill, noting he occasionally played defence in bantam. "He had confidence in me that I could do it. He had confidence that I could play both positions, and I just said ‘OK, I can play and have success with both of them.’"
As of Jan. 15, the Americans were four points ahead of the Prince George Cougars for the eighth and final playoff spot in the WHL’s Western Conference while also having played two fewer games than the Cougars.