Promising final roster has Canadians primed to challenge for World Junior title
Expectations high as junior squad takes centre stage in an NHL lockout year
But this year, they’ll be even higher for Canada’s national junior squad that is reaping the benefits of the ongoing National Hockey League lockout.
The bar has been raised for the 23 teenagers who’ll head over to Ufa, Russia, after being named to the team on Thursday at Hockey Canada headquarters in Calgary.
Many could have played for NHL clubs this year, including Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Florida Panthers prospect and 2011 third-overall pick Jonathan Huberdeau, New York Islanders fifth overall pick in 2011 Ryan Strome, and Winnipeg Jets pick Mark Scheifele. All are 19 years old.
On paper, the group is fast, skilled, and deep up front and experienced on their back-end. Their three netminders, Jake Paterson of the Saginaw Spirit, Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls, and Jordan Binnington from the Owen Sound Attack, have all played big-time minutes.
Now, putting it together before the team opens the tournament on Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia, will be the trick.
“The word we’ve talked about is habits,” said head coach Steve Spott. “I think when you have a group as elite as we have, it’ll be about habits. Managing ice time, shift length, power-play opportunity, sacrificing, line changes — all of those details are going to make us successful.
“It’s such a fine line, winning a gold medal this tournament because the teams are so good. Our hard work and details have to be second to none.”
The last time Canada competed in the world juniors during an NHL lockout year was 2005 when a stacked team featuring Dion Phaneuf, Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Ladd, Shea Weber, and Corey Perry captured gold at Grand Forks, N. D.
Nugent-Hopkins was 12 at the time.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said the first overall pick of the 2011 NHL draft said Thursday, which is also proof the world truly does work in mysterious ways as he was cut from the junior team in 2010 as a 17-year-old. “I’m going to look back and have no regrets.
“I’m happy I went through all of this.”
Meanwhile, Nathan MacKinnon, the projected first-overall pick at the upcoming 2013 NHL draft, and his Halifax Mooseheads linemate Jonathan Drouin will be the first 17-year-old players named to the Canadian squad since Sidney Crosby.
Obviously, they were picked for a reason — and showed it during this week’s selection camp.
“They played like they were 27,” Spott said. “And for me that’s what made the difference. They didn’t play like they were 17.
“As I said, they’re both unique players, but they’re both unique individuals, where I know they can handle the scrutiny and the media and obviously the pressure that comes with being their age. That was a big decision, but I’m fully comfortable they can handle it.”
Spott has been in constant communication with Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, director of hockey operations Scott Salmond, and chief operating officer Scott Smith about a sudden end to the labour impasse. Some NHL teams have already given their OK to keep players (TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that Rielly, Jenner, Harrington, and Rattie are fully committed to Team Canada’s roster).
However, in his brief exit conversations with the cut players, Spott said he didn’t mention the possibility of an emergency recall despite the uncertainty.
“Some decisions that are going to be made are going to be completely out of our control,” he said. “We can’t control it, it’s unfortunate to a degree.
“But I’d like to think that when we get on that plane on Saturday, we’re going to finish with the same group we started with.”
Canada’s roster also features six returning players from the 2012 squad that won bronze at last year’s world juniors in Calgary and Edmonton.
Forwards Huberdeau, Scheifele, Strome, and Boone Jenner, and defencemen Dougie Hamilton and Scott Harrington are back for one more shot at gold.
“It’s really cool,” said Hamilton, who was on the 2012 squad with his older brother Freddie. “With last year, winning bronze, getting a second chance at gold is pretty special.
“I’m pretty excited and, again, it’s a dream come true.”
Harrington, also going through the process a second (successful) time, weighed in on the emotions.
“Once the team is made, everyone is just overjoyed and excited,” said the London Knights captain. “Everyone has the same feeling of moving on together quickly.
“Just knowing that you represent Canada, it brings you together.”
Eight players on Thursday, however, were on the opposite end of the spectrum and left Calgary with mixed emotions.
Edmonton Oil Kings goaltender Laurent Brossoit was the lone goalie sent home along with four forwards Daniel Catenacci of the Owen Sound Attack, Prince Albert Raiders captain Mark McNeill, Medicine Hat Tigers captain Hunter Shinkaruk, and body-bashing Tom Wilson of the Plymouth Whalers.
Three defencemen — Frank Corrado of the Sudbury Wolves, Mathew Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels, and Ryan Sproul of Sault St. Marie — were also given the bad news.
“It was a tough camp and a tough team to make,” said Catenacci, a native of Newmarket, Ont., and a third round 2011 pick of the Buffalo Sabres. “It’s every boy’s dream to play on this team and to be let go is pretty disappointing.
“I just want to thank Hockey Canada for everything and it’s an honour to be here and I wish them the best.”
Following Friday’s team photo and media availability at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre at 10 a.m., Canada practises for the first time as a team on Saturday (10:30 a.m.) and heads to the airport to fly to Europe later in the day.
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