Petrolia inline hockey player going for gold
Ten year-old Petrolia resident Gage Brandon will be representing Team Canada at the AAU Inline Hockey Junior Olympics on July 9. Brandon is one of just 14 U10 inline hockey players to be selected for the team from across the country. CARL HNATYSHYN/SARNIA THIS WEEK
A 10-year-old Petrolia inline hockey player is hoping to win gold for Canada this summer.
Gage Brandon, a fourth-grade student at Petrolia's Queen Elizabeth II Public School, is one of only 14 inline hockey players from across the country to have made the final cut for Canada's U10 Team.
Brandon and his teammates will be donning Canada's red and white jerseys and taking on a number of teams from around the world as they travel to Corona, California for the AAU Inline Hockey Junior Olympics, which begins July 9.
An ice hockey player who plays with the Lambton Junior Sting AAA Major Atom team in the winter, Brandon only just started playing organized inline hockey this past spring, joining the newly-formed Roller Hockey London league.
“I just started playing this year,” the centreman said. “I started rollerblading when I was seven or eight and I just started playing organized games in London this spring.”
Initially, Brandon played with kids his own age in the league's U10 division. After a handful of games, his coaches moved him up to the U12/U13 division.
At that point, RHL officials started to notice, father Rick Brandon said.
“One of the directors of the league in London recommended that Gage go and try out for Team Canada,” he said. “That's what really sparked it – we really knew nothing about it prior to that.”
“Dan Larocque, who plays on Team Canada in the Masters Division (35+ years), he thought that Gage had what it would take to compete at that level nationally,” Rick continued. “So we went up to Oakville during the first week of May and tried out for the national team.”
A few weeks after tryouts, Gage Brandon got the news: he would be the only Ontario player playing for Team Canada's U10 team.
In understated fashion, Gage said he was thrilled when he found out he made the team in late May.
“There was a shortlist and I made it,” he said, smiling. “It was pretty cool.”
Inline hockey, Gage said, is a different beast from ice hockey. Aside from some rule differences – there are no offsides and no icing in inline hockey – it is also a much faster-paced and free-flowing game, with inline hockey being four-on-four, meaning a lot more open space.
“It's more difficult to stop and it's much harder to stick-handle,” Gage said. “You can't slap at (the puck) and you can't really saucer pass it either ... you really have to try hard to keep possession of it.”
While Gage said he didn't quite know how the team would do during this year's Junior Olympics, Rick said that after he did some research, he found out that competition from other countries will be demanding. Unlike ice hockey, he said, Canada isn't necessarily recognized as the world leader in inline hockey.
“They are very elite talents in the southern U.S.,” he said. “It's kind of their thing because there they have the climate, which helps them stay on their wheels year round. And from what I've read, teams from Colombia and Mexico are really competitive as well.”
For Gage, bringing home the gold for Canada would be a dream come true, he said. After taking time to thank all of his coaches from Petrolia who have inspired him and pushed him to be a better player – coaches such as Brayden Belan, Tom Valiquette and in Sarnia Rick Fraser, Joe Najim, Dan Thompson as well as his skills coach Aaron Brand from Vision Hockey – Gage said he would be happy to net some goals and assist some of his teammates en route to the finals.
“I hope to get a couple of goals and a couple of assists,” the lifelong Washington Capitals fan said.
Father Rick, who will be travelling with Gage to California for the Junior Olympics, said the entire tournament will a great experience for his son.
“It's really exciting,” he said. “We didn't really know what we were getting into when we signed up for the spring league in London.”
“We're both excited for the challenge.”