The Humboldt Broncos will be taking on one of Sweden's national hockey teams on the first day of the new year, and they're preparing for it like they would any other game.
The Broncos aren't taking any special measures just yet to make sure they're ready to play Sweden's Under-17 hockey team at the Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt on January 1.
However, they are looking forward to the unique experience this game will offer.
"It's going to be kind of neat to play against different players from overseas," said Neil Landry, an 18-year-old Humboldt Broncos forward. "I've never played against international hockey players," he added.
The game itself should be pretty fun, Landry noted, and likely pretty fast.
"It's going to be neat to see the type of game they play compared to what we play in Canada," he stated.
Landry said he's not hoping to get anything out of the game but some fun, and some experience playing against an international team.
"I just love the game," Landry said. "And like any other game, I'm going to play hard.... It's the experience more than anything."
Landry's teammate, forward Taylor Johnson, has had some experience at the international level. In Bantam hockey, he played against Team Russia at the Kamloops International tournament. But he's still hoping to gain some more knowledge about the European game on January 1.
"It will be a good experience to see how the team plays compared to the North American game," Johnson said.
"It's an opportunity to see what international (hockey) has in store for us and how we rank up," he added. "We'll play the best under-17 players in all of Sweden, and see how we do against them."
Plus, he added, this game will be a good way to get back into their season after the Christmas break.
The team will be coming back a little early from that Christmas break, in order to get some practices in before the January 1 match-up, which will begin at 3:30 p.m.
"We'll see what Dean (Brockman - head coach of the Humboldt Broncos) has in store for us to prepare," Johnson said of when they come back from the Christmas break.
For the players, they will likely be working out a bit more than they usually would over Christmas, so that they're in shape for this early game.
"For some of the younger guys, it's quite exciting for them," Brockman said of how his team is feeling about the contest against Sweden. Once the game gets closer, he added, he's sure everyone on the team will be excited about it.
It will also give his players a chance to be scouted by Western Hockey League and even National Hockey League teams, he pointed out.
"It's where they do their import drafts from, tournaments like these," Brockman said of the WHL teams.
Team Sweden will be taking on four teams in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League between December 29 and January 3 - a tour set up by the Humboldt Broncos organization.
As for the NHL teams, some of the Swedish players will likely be drafted in the near future, as more than a few current NHLers once played on Sweden's Under-16 team, Brockman said.
Fans at the game will likely see some future NHL stars, Brockman noted, and will get a look at the international game.
"It will be interesting to see the skill level," Brockman said of the Swedish team.
"I know Team Sweden is looking at this as a valuable learning experience for their young players," stated Bob Johnston, president of the Humboldt Broncos board of directors. "It is no secret that they want to learn how to play a Canadian style of hockey, to be more competitive in international competitions, like the World Juniors, and the Olympics. They want to experience what junior hockey players in Canada go through, and this tour will likely be an eye-opening experience for them."
Johnston feels this game will also be a great opportunity for Broncos players to see how their skills match up against one of the premiere hockey programs in the world.
"Our players may never have the opportunity to play against a team from another country, so I hope they really enjoy this experience,"Johnston stated.
From the Broncos organization's side, Johnston hopes at the end of the day "that we can call this event successful. If this is something that our fans support and enjoy, it should open doors to doing more events like this in the future."
Reaction from the public to this game since it was announced in early December has been positive.
"I think people are looking for something to do New Years Day, and this can help fill that void," Johnston stated.
They would love to see a full rink for this game, he added.
"We took a financial risk to get this team here, and we hope we can at least cover our costs," he said.
"The ticket prices are set low as a way to thank our loyal fans and corporate supporters," Johnston explained. "We rely a lot on the financial support we get from these groups to keep the Humboldt Broncos in existence. It is their support of these events that decides if the event is successful or not...
"I would love to see the community embrace this event, as it did last year for the exhibition game between Slovakia and Austria," Johnston stated. "The difference with this game is that we get to see how our Humboldt Broncos will do against another country's best young hockey talent. Team Sweden's players may be 16 years old, but these are the best 16-year-old hockey players in Sweden. I expect this to be a very entertaining hockey game."