Cochrane Generals forward Daniel O'Handley heads out Thursday to join his teammates on Australia's men's U20 team to prepare for the IIHF Division II world championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

The 18-year forward journeyed from Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, to join the Gens this season, along with his older brother Morris, who plays defence. He's no stranger to representing his country in international competition, playing in the U18 IIHF Div. 2 world championship last spring.

"It's a great opportunity," says O'Handley, "To represent my country is always a great honour and I look forward to it."

Dan O'Handley 1Daniel O'Handley with his jersey and the Australian flag in the background. (photo supplied)

The team will be training for about a week in Milan, Italy before heading to Belgrade, where the world championship opens on Jan. 14.

He says the training will help the team gel before the tournament gets underway. He did play with a few of them at last spring's world championship.

The O'Handley brothers signed with the Gens this fall. Before arriving here, they last played with the Adelaide Adrenaline in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL). 

dan 2Daniel last played with the Adelaide Adrenaline alongside his brother Morris before signing with the Generals. (photo supplied)

O'Handley says it's something like a semi-pro league, with the top players in the country. No one gets paid, but many advance to Australia's national teams.

He says there comes a point that if you want to get better at the sport, you have to leave Australia. 

"In the summer, there's not much ice at all. so if you want to keep working on your game, you have to go somewhere else, which is kind of where I'm at right now."

He says the Canadian game is faster and you have to work harder if you want to succeed.

"There's so much more competition to make teams, so I think they compete at a much higher level, and it's a lot more physical. I've noticed in Australia you can get away with a lot of stuff because the guys aren't really playing physically, but here you've got to be a bit more switched on because guys are looking to throw body checks and stuff when they can."

Gens head coach Kurtis Jones says O'Handley's game has continued to improve since the beginning of the season.

"He's an impact player, and he's been playing very well for the last couple of months," says Jones. "He's starting to bring his game and feel a little bit more comfortable with us and the terminology and what kind of coach I am. Our goal is to help him succeed."

Jones says they will lose him from the roster for the better part of January, but they'll be watching and cheering him on at the Worlds.

"It will be a good experience for him and hopefully he'll learn lots there and maybe bring some of that back to share with our coaching staff."

O'Handley says he feels at home with the Gens.

"The guys are great, the staff is great. With the Gens, you do plenty in the community. At Christmas, we were helping families and we do lots of other stuff, so I've got to know a lot of people in the community. It's been really good."

He says the Gens got off to a strong start this season but recently has run into trouble against some of the top teams in the league due to injuries.

"I think when we have our full lineup, we're pretty good. We're all on the same page now so I think after Christmas everyone will be back and we'll be ready to go."

His brother Morris is one of the players who has been sidelined with an injury and has only recently returned to the ice. Morris has twice appeared with Australia's U20 team at the world championship.

O'Handley has been playing since he was five and was introduced to the sport at a young age by his father Ryan, who played hockey growing up here before going on to play and coach at a high level in Australia.

"He got me on skates and then I kind of fell in love with it."

At 6'1", 201 lbs., O'Handley has appeared in 19 games with the Gens, with two goals, seven assists, and 20 penalty minutes.

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