Wright, Team Canada skate to world silver

France is famous for its wine, cheese, pastry, monuments and museums, fashion, annual cycling race, and, earlier this summer, inline hockey prowess.

The host team captured the junior (U18) title at the FIRS World Championships, after beating a Canadian team that included Langley forward Baylee Wright by a 6-4 score in the gold medal final on July 6.

The tourney’s championship game brought together a pair of undefeated teams and was played in front of roughly 6,000 fans inside the Palais Des Sports arena in Toulouse, France.

France led 2-1 after the first half and had a 4-3 edge in goals in the second half.

Wright, who at 16 was Canada’s youngest player, assisted on Troy Ring’s shorthanded goal during the second half.

France definitely had home floor advantage.

“It was packed and they were all [cheering] for France, and not one fan for us,” said Wright, originally profiled in the June 12 Langley Advance [Forward joining U18 nats at world tourney in France].

Playing the role of the inline hockey enemy on this occasion was an strange situation for Wright and his teammates.

“I never played in front of a crowd like that,” Wright said.

“It was different in a way that you can’t call for the puck and [have your teammate] hear it because it was so loud in there. You just had to tone it out and focus on playing.”

The Canadians had good reason to be a little nervous going into the final. France had upset the defending champion Czech Republic 5-4 in one of two semifinal games played on July 5.

“They [the Czechs] were one of the best teams going into it,” Wright said. “We expected to play them in the final. We never expected to play France.”

On a personal note, Wright finished the tournament with seven points on four goals and three assists.

“I thought I did fairly well, being the youngest player,” Wright said. “I was nervous because I didn’t know where I fit in, going in, but after the first game, you just kind of fit in.”

Canada opened the tournament with a pair of convincing wins: 22-0 over South Korea on July 1 and 13-1 over Germany on July 2.

This was followed by wins of 4-0 over Switzerland on July 3 and 8-0 over Great Britain on July 4, which set up a Canada/U.S. semifinal.

In their toughest test prior to the championship game, Wright and the Canadians downed the Americans 5-3 on July 5 to advance to the final.

Canada had a 3-1 edge in goals during the second half to snap a 2-2 tie and pull away from its U.S. rival.

“They beat us last year in the semifinal,” Wright said, regarding the Americans.

Playing a reasonable schedule of one game each day allowed Wright and his teammates to get a taste of life away from the rink in France.

It was a culture shock for Wright.

“The language barrier was a lot different but our coach [Thomas Woods] spoke fluent French,” Wright said. “He plays in the France [inline] league.”

This was Wright’s first exposure to a world tournament and he said strategies, particularly on defence, varied from one team to the next.

“There were different styles that they played,” he said.  “Some just sit back in a [defensive] box and some are really offensive.”

He added there were “two or three players on each team” who stood out.

After arriving in Toulouse, the Canadians played a pre-tournament exhibition game against Spain, and spent most of their time throughout the week together, allowing the 13 players, six of whom hailing from B.C.. an opportunity to gel.

Looking ahead, Wright would love to play for the U18 juniors again next year, when the tournament shifts to Argentina.

FINAL BUZZER: Sponsoring Wright was Rypac Aluminum Recycling, Sposa Nail and Hair Salon, the Ewing family, Legend Home Builders, Ocean Park Pizza in Walnut Grove, Centra Windows, Silverwynde Properties, Brent Lebedynski with BCL Trucking, Affinity Manufacturing Ltd., and, he said, “all my family.”

“Thank you to everyone [who] gave me this opportunity by sponsoring me,” Wright said. “It was a great experience and the memories will last a lifetime.”

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