Sweet 16 for McCrae

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

There aren't many 16-year-old WHL players who could be called ironmen.

But look no further than Justin McCrae.

McCrae, a rookie with the Saskatoon Blades, has played every game this season for the resurgent club, which is a rarity in a league dominated by 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds.

So it's not surprising the talented forward from Cochrane is happy to be home for a few days before lacing up his skates with Team Pacific in the U-17 World Hockey Challenge, which runs Dec. 28-Jan. 4 in Lethbridge.

"It's been awesome so far seeing everybody again. It'll be good just to have a rest," said the 6-ft. 180-pounder from his parents' house in Cochrane.

After playing with Strathmore's UFA Bisons last season in the Alberta Midget Hockey League, McCrae said adjusting to the WHL and bigger, faster players hasn't been all that easy.

"It's pretty demanding physically, I guess, but you're so busy you don't even think about it," said McCrae, who is the fifth-leading 16-year-old scorer in the WHL with 11 points (6g, 5a).

"I've played every game, so I'm adjusting well to the lifestyle and so far it's gone pretty well."

Last year at this time, McCrae was thinking about the Mac's tournament in Calgary and the thrill that comes with playing in the prestigious event.

Now he's locked into the World Hockey Challenge in Lethbridge, where he and his Team Pacific teammates will play the best 16-year-olds in the world.

"It'll be awesome in Lethbridge playing with some of the guys I've been playing against all season and it'll be awesome with my mom and dad coming out to watch it every day," said McCrae.

"It'll also be a lot tougher playing against countries I've never seen players from -- but it'll be fun."

On paper, Team Pacific looks like a solid team and McCrae figures his club is going to challenge for the title.

"We have a pretty good shot at coming up with gold this year," he said. "I think we're going to be really strong defensively, we've got a lot of skill up front and the goaltending seems to be pretty good too."

Along with five Canadian teams, the U.S., Germany, Slovakia, Finland and the Czech Republic will battle for world supremacy.

McCrae was hoping a Russian team would show up this year but the Ruskies are a no-show, so he's looking to match up against the U.S.

"It'll be good to see what kind of prospects they've got," said McCrae.

Pacific opens against Quebec Dec. 29 at the Enmax Centre.


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