REGINA -- As Canada takes on Russia in the IIHF U18 Men’s World Hockey Championships Thursday night, one member from Saskatchewan isn’t suiting up.

Regina’s Cole Sillinger made Team Canada’s roster, which was announced in April. However, a positive COVID-19 test derailed his opportunity to play with the team.

“It’s really devastating not being able to play in the tournament,” Sillinger said.

During his pre-tournament quarantine, Sillinger needed to provide three consecutive negative COVID-19 tests before being allowed to train ahead of the tournament in Texas. His results came back positive on his first test

“We were going to see if it was a false positive because I had zero symptoms, felt great, I’m vaccinated,” Sillinger said.

After the first positive, the 17-year-old tested negative twice, leading him to believe he’d had a false positive. However, the fourth test was a deal-breaker.

“That last test came back positive, not sure why,” Sillinger said. “I don’t know if I even had it or not. But it was super devastating.”

This season, the forward decided to play with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League (USHL), instead of returning for his second season with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL.

“I thought going down there was best for my development and best for my end goal, which is playing in the National Hockey League,” Sillinger explained.

The left-handed centre only played in 31 out of 54 games with Sioux Falls in the USHL. However, Sillinger led the Stampede with 46 points, finishing fourth in the USHL with 1.48 points per game.

“He was a man among boys a lot of the nights. I think you forget that he’s 17 years old and his just maturity,” said Marty Murray, head coach of the Sioux Falls Stampede.

A week before he was supposed to report to Team Canada training camp in Texas, Sillinger was invited to play in the USHL all-star game against the U.S. development team in Michigan.

“I had to get three tests and they were all negative,” Sillinger said. “I was fortunate enough to play in that big event with a lot of scouts in attendance.”

Sillinger is eligible for the NHL draft in July. Hockey experts project Sillinger could be selected in the first round, as high as eighth overall. Murray says almost every NHL teams general manager has contacted him about Sillinger.

“He’s shown enough over the last couple of years of playing at a high level, [not playing at the U18s] shouldn’t affect his draft status too much,” Murray said.

NHL teams will also be evaluating players at the world championships, but Sillinger is more devastated about missing a golden opportunity.

“The biggest thing that stings is just not being able to play for my country and not have that ability to try and win a gold medal,” Sillinger said.

In 2019, Sillinger was selected to represent Canada’s U17 squad and he was named assistant captain. He’s hoping he gets another chance to wear the maple leaf, perhaps in a few months.

“One of my goals and I guess the next step for me is to play in the World Juniors,” Sillinger said. “I’ll be working towards that and hopefully get the chance to represent my country on the world stage again.”