BURNABY, B.C. — Admir Cejvanovic doesn't remember much about the refugee camp nestled on the border of Croatia and his native Bosnia.
Just a toddler at the time, he lived there with his mother under the protection of the United Nations for about six months as the Balkan region descended into a series of wars in the early 1990s.
"I have a couple of glimpses of what it was like," said Cejvanovic. "It wasn't too difficult for the kids.
"A lot of us were just ignorant to what was going on."
The pair would eventually find their way to a town in Croatia and then finally the Vancouver area as sponsored refugees by the time Admir was four.
"My life in Canada, for me it's like winning the lottery," said Cejvanovic, now 26. "If I'd stayed back there my life would have been a lot different."
Cejvanovic will play his fifth game for the Canadian men's rugby team Saturday when it hosts the United States.
The Americas Rugby Championship test match will be Cejvanovic's first for Canada in Burnaby, a city just east of Vancouver where his family put down roots and he learned the sport he now loves.
Cejvanovic is happy to talk about his journey — more than 100,000 people were killed during Yugoslavia's bloody breakup — especially with so much negativity surrounding refugees and immigrants in today's world.
"I understand it's a big issue," said Cejvanovic, whose mother will attend Saturday's game at Swangard Stadium. "If anything it makes me a better person and helps me focus on the things that are important.
"I owe it all to my mom. She made the decision to pull us out of there. I'm grateful for that. What my life would have been like, who knows? I'm just happy we came here and I got the chance to do this."
Sporting a cut that needed stitches over his left eye after a practice this week, Cejvanovic said he's visited Bosnia on three occasions.
"I love my time there," he said with a smile. "I'm from the countryside so my uncles get a lot of work out of me.
"I get to learn what hard work is."
Cejvanovic also learned about hard work the last two years as a member of Canada's rugby sevens program. With a bigger body than most players in the sport's more-wide open incarnation, he needed to be focused at all times, something that has helped his transition back to 15-man game.
"I used to be a very lazy rugby player," said Cejvanovic, who will suit up as Canada's No. 8 against the U.S. "Sevens taught me how to work off the ball."
Canada, ranked 18th in the world, is 1-1 in Americas Rugby Championship. The squad beat Chile 36-15 last weekend following a 20-6 loss to Argentina's second-tier side.
The Canadians have called up a young squad for the tournament. The plan is to get more players integrated in the national team setup ahead of a two-legged World Cup qualifier against the U.S. later this year.
"It's going to be a challenge, but the boys have worked hard this week," said Canada's head coach Mark Anscombe. "We'll go in with some confidence to back ourselves to do what we need to do."
Anscombe is set to make five changes to the starting lineup against the No. 17 Americans, who are 2-0 after wins over No. 23 Uruguay and No. 34 Brazil.
Ray Barkwill will captain the squad, while Taylor Paris gets another nod after scoring three tries against Chile. Reegan O'Gorman and Robbie Povey have been tabbed to make their first test starts for Canada, which after Saturday will fly south to play Uruguay on Feb. 25 and Brazil on March 3.
Canada is 38-16-1 all-time against the U.S., but has lost five in a row after winning seven straight. The Canadians last beat the Americans 13-11 in the second leg of their Rugby World Cup qualifier in 2013.
"It's always a special game," said Paris. "There's a ton of new boys into the squad, a lot of them have never played against the States.
"They obviously understand the rivalry, but it's a bit different when you get in there and get a crack against them."
Rob Brouwer, Lindsay RFC, Lindsay, Ont.; Ray Barkwill (capt.), Castaway Wanderers, Niagara Falls, Ont.; Matt Tierney, Section Paloise (France), Oakville, Ont.; Conor Keys, UVic Vikes, Ottawa; Reegan O'Gorman, Marist Albion (New Zealand), Vancouver; Lucas Rumball, Balmy Beach RFC, Toronto; Ollie Nott, UVic Vikes, Qualicum, B.C.; Admir Cejvanovic, Burnaby Lake RFC, Burnaby, B.C.; Phil Mack, James Bay AA, Victoria; Robbie Povey, Bedford Athletic (England), Northampton, England; Taylor Paris, Agen (France), Barrie, Ont.; Guiseppe Du Toit, UVic Vikes, Maple Ridge, B.C.; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Dan Moor, Balmy Beach RFC, Toronto; Brock Staller, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver.
Benoit Piffero, Blagnac Sporting Rugby Club (France), Montreal; Djustice Sears-Duru, Glasgow Warriors (Scotland), Oakville, Ont.; Cole Keith, James Bay AA, Sussex, N.B.; Liam Chisholm, UVic Vikes, Kenora, Ont.; Lucas Albornoz, Prairie Wolf Pack, Vancouver;Gordon McRorie, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Gradyn Bowd, UVic Vikes, Red Deer, Alta.; George Barton, Clermont Espoirs (France), Duncan, B.C.
Anthony Purpura, Peter Malcolm, Chris Baumann, Nate Brakeley, Nick Civetta, Todd Clever (capt.), Tony Lamborn, Cameron Dolan, Shaun Davies, Will Magie, Nate Augspurger, JP Eloff, Bryce Campbell, Ryan Matyas, Mike Te'o.
James Hilterbrand, Dino Waldren, Ben Tarr, Siaosi Mahoni, John Quill, David Tameilau, Ben Cima, Aaron Davis
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press