To be able to say you represented your country at an international sporting event is the dream of just about any athlete, and for three St. Louis Jr. Blues alumni that dream has come true as they will pull on their national team’s jersey next month.
Trace Jablin, Zach Mitchell, and Tyler Opilka were named to the 22-man roster representing the USA at the 2019 Winter Universiade, held next month in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. The Universiade, also known as the World University Games, is a bi-annual event billed as the Olympics for student-athletes, drawing thousands of participants from around the world. For hockey, Team USA is primarily made up of top players from ACHA Division I, in addition to NCAA talent.
This is not Opilka’s first time representing Team USA at the University Games, as he was named to the 2017 squad, which finished seventh in Almaty, Kazakhstan. A current senior at the University of Illinois, the defenseman has scored two goals and 17 assists for the Illini, currently ranked #13 in the nation by the ACHA. He played three total seasons for the Jr. Blues, from 2011-12 to 2013-14.
Opilka’s former Jr. Blues teammate (2011-13) Trace Jablin has been a standout performer at the University of Colorado, where he has played since 2016 after spending his freshman year at Endicott College. Also in his senior year, Jablin has 13 goals and 14 assists in 25 games, leading all scoring categories for the #19th-ranked Buffaloes.
For Zach Mitchell, who played parts of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with the Jr. Blues with a stint in the NAHL in between, being capped by Team USA is just the latest in what has been a breakout sophomore season for him at Lindenwood. The Chicago native leads the #1 nationally ranked Lions in goals with 18, adding 13 assists to his name in 23 games.
Jr. Blues head coach Chris Flaugher remarked that “to see just one of your alumni picked to represent their country is a great achievement, but to see three is simply incredible and something that all of us at the Jr. Blues are rightfully proud of. We wish Tyler, Trace and Zach the best of luck in Russia and hope they bring home the gold.”