Johnson: Ecstacy and agony the emotions for local juniors
Rattie makes team but Dumba and Shinkaruk among final cuts
Of the eight voices, by turns soft and hurt, disbelieving and despairing, his came closest to cracking.
“Just ... not my year,” murmured Matthew Dumba, clinging to his emotions like a stricken man to the ledge of a building.
“I thought I played all right the first two games. I felt I played pretty good the last one.”
It was a walk they’d all come to dread the last few days, in this dizzying whirlwind that constitutes Team Canada’s junior selection camp: That short flight of stairs up from the makeshift bad news-department located on the pool/fitness centre/spa/Jasper ballroom level, to the hotel lobby, gear being towed ahead of them, a sharp left turn into a thicket of lights and unfamiliar faces, three or four awkward questions couched in sympathy to struggle through, and then out the back door, into the night, into a car and ... gone.
Of the three locals here in contention for a trip to Ufa, Russia over the holidays, only Portland Winterhawks’ right winger Ty Rattie, of Airdrie, in his final spin of the roulette wheel, survived the chop. Calgarians Hunter Shinkaruk and Dumba, both 18, made that dreaded walk up the short flight of stairs, the final two of the eight to do so.
“Being a draft-eligible guy, it’s a little tougher to make it,” reasoned Shinkaruk, the Medicine Hat Tigers’ quicksilver left winger. “But I wish the team the best of luck over in Russia and hopefully I’ll be back here next year.
“Obviously I wanted to be on that flight, but it’s pretty cool anytime you have a chance to represent your country. I’m fortunate for that, but I’ve got a lot of work to do here in Medicine Hat.”
When reminded that a number of fine NHLers — Matt Duchene, Tyler Seguin and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins among them — had also failed as draft-eligibles, Shinkaruk smiled wanly.
“Obviously I feel that I did a lot to make the team. So it’s a little bit tough. But if guys like that who’ve gone on to have pretty successful careers, I’ve just got to keep my head up, keep developing as a player and hopefully I’ll be in the NHL, which is where I want to be.”
Where Rattie wants to be is right where he is. Getting ready for an overseas flight.
His joy at finally cracking the Canadian roster in his final year of eligibity was apparent, as a group of happy, surviving players filtered into for a team photo op in the Hockey Canada’s Hall of Champions in the Markim MacPhail Centre around 6:45 p.m. Thursday.
“Best feeling in the world. I was pacing around my room. I was the only one in that room, so if the phone rang it wasn’t for anyone else but me.
“I took the experience I had last year into this year. I played the role I wanted to play and obviously they saw something in me they wanted to keep, so I’m not going to argue with them.”
Rattie can certainly commiserate with Dumba, Shinkaruk and the other six that were cut.
“Worst feeling in this world. It’s awful. You get that call and you know it’s not going this year. But a lot of those guys have another year. I know what that’s like. I wanted to take my year experience and I wanted to prove everyone wrong.”
Canadian head coach Steve Spott said Rattie richly deserved his place on this team.
“We saw in Game 4 of the Summit Series this summer what he’s capable of. He’s a game breaker, well coached in Portland and just a tremendous kid. The challenge for Ty is going to be to keep that work ethic up every night. But I think with the opportunity with a Scheifele, a Strome, a Nugent-Hopkins ... boy, that’s got to be motivation in itself.”
The whole Rattie crew is heading to Russia for this cameo-keepsake moment: Rattie’s dad, Rob, mom Shauna, 14-year-old brother Taden, his grandpa Brian (“My biggest fan since I can remember”) and grandma Jean.
“This was it for me. There was a sense of desperation, certainly. I needed this. I wanted this. So bad. I didn’t want that feeling I had last year.”
A feeling Dumba is experiencing, again, this morning. This marks a second failed attempt to crack the Canadian roster. Only an hour and a half earlier, before the Hockey Canada junior braintrust had huddled to decide upon the final eight cuts, the Red Deer Rebels’ cornerstone D-man had been brimming with cautious optimism.
“My last game was my strongest,” he said, following a tire-pumping 2-0 victory over a collection of CIS players. “I left everything out there. I guess we’ll just wait and see now.
“We went through it before, yesterday. I was sweating. I was in my room all alone. Francis (Beauvillier), he took off. It’s not going to be fun.
“I don’t have Twitter. I’ll probably stay off the Internet, watch TV, try to eat and ignore it. I tried to come in here just like last year without all the pressures and whatnot. Being a 17 year old last year I didn’t have to face any of that, just go out there and give it my all. This year I kinda felt the pressure.
“It’s stressful. It’s a stressful three days for all of us. Not just me. It’s crazy.”
Yes, it is. There is no easy, humane way to rip a teenage kid’s heart out of his chest. No anesthetic capable of dulling the pain; no available antidote for diluting the poison. Dumba sort of flinched, almost imperceptibly, when, he was asked if he felt any regrets about his effort here this week.
“Um, no,” he stammered, clinging tenaciously to that ledge again. “No. It’s tough. A tough team to make. I’m disappointed. At the same time I understand.”
But you could tell he didn’t. Not really.
They never do. Never can.
And then he was out the back door, into the night, into a car and ... gone.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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