IceDogs import a quick learner
Kyen Sopa has made a smooth transition to Canada, both on and off the ice.
The 18-year-old Switzerland native is off to a solid start with the Niagara IceDogs with three goals and four points in his first six games in the Ontario Hockey League.
Sopa seems unfazed by his quick adjustment.
“Everything is new. The hockey is the same, but it’s way faster,” he said. “They gave me the chance and I had the opportunity to show what I can do. I took it and I think I’m in a good spot now.”
The IceDogs selected Sopa in the first round (36th overall) of the 2018 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
Sopa spent last season with Bern U20 in the SC Junior A league. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound winger represented his country at IIHF U18 Hockey Championship in April, finishing with six points in six games. With Bern U20, he scored 21 goals and collected 35 assists in 41 games. He also represented Switzerland at the World Junior A U19 Championship in Nova Scotia, collecting a goal and an assist in four games.
It was that impressive resume that convinced the IceDogs Sopa could be an effective player in the OHL.
“Obviously, we had high hopes for Kyen,” IceDogs head coach Billy Burke said. “For him to come over and make the transition and make it so quickly and adjust to the league so well, it’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Burke said IceDogs general manager Joey Burke did the leg work on Sopa.
“The one thing we did know that we liked about him is he played internationally for Switzerland on multiple occasions,” Billy Burke said. “Even through Switzerland isn’t necessarily winning these tournaments, they are playing against Russia and Canada and the U.S. and Sweden.
“He’s played against the best kids his age in the world. He’s always scored internationally and in junior back in Switzerland. His resume before coming in here made us feel we could potentially have a player here.”
Sopa has shown not only a nice scoring touch so far, but the willingness to mix it up.
“He has a reputation for playing with a bit of an edge and he’s shown that here. He’s fearless and gritty. He’ll go to the net, he’ll go to the corners, he’ll finish his check,” Billy Burke said.
Sopa said he wasn’t really familiar with Niagara when his agent said the IceDogs were interested in him.
“Why not?” he said when asked about the thought process of coming to Canada. “Let’s give it a try and after that five other CHL teams showed interest but in the end I chose the IceDogs.”
Off the Ice, Sopa has adjusted as well.
He is rooming with winger Ivan Lodnia and the two often join Akil Thomas and Elijah Roberts for a meal out or a movie.
“It’s amazing. I love it here,” he said.
He is still taken aback at how serious hockey is taken in Canada compared his homeland.
“You know when you’re in Canada you think about hockey all the time,” he said. “The people here live for hockey. In Europe, they don’t do that. Hockey is just a side sport. Here, everybody loves hockey.”
Sopa misses his family — mom, dad and two-year-old baby brother — but checks in regularly on FaceTime. He is hoping they can come to Canada for the World Junior Championships in Vancouver in January if he makes Team Switzerland, or to St. Catharines if he does not make the Swiss roster.
“To be honest, I love Canada more than Switzerland,” he said. “I’m homesick, but just because of my family. If my family would be here, I wouldn’t even go to Switzerland. I wouldn’t even mind.”
He is still thrown off by the food, but more so the flavour than the selection.
“It tastes different. The pasta is better in Europe. It’s good here too, just different.”
The IceDogs, 3-2-1, have a busy week with a home game Thursday versus Barrie and road games in Barrie Saturday and Sudbury Sunday afternoon.
Ice cubes: Defencemen Liam Hamm and Elijah Roberts are still listed day to day while Drew Hunter is week to week. Forward Bradey Johnson is expected to fill in on the blueline again this weekend should the need arise.
On the right side of our web site, you will notice a yellow SUPPORT US button.
We are asking anyone who finds value in our work and is able to financially help us to click on the button and contribute whatever amount you feel is appropriate and can afford. There is no set amount. Any amount is appreciated.
The funds collected will be used to enhance and offset the expenses of running the web site.