Canadian junior team takes smaller approach to camp 0
Aaron Ekblad, left, and Connor McDavid are two of the young guns invited to the Canadian junior team's selection camp. (QMI Agency file photo)
Brent Sutter wants his players to establish quickly an identity.
Canada has become a country that doesn’t win gold at the world junior, and enough is enough.
With that in mind, Hockey Canada announced on Monday a selection-camp roster of just 25 players, meaning just three cuts will be required before Canada plays its first game of the 2014 world junior in Malmo, Sweden.
“The biggest challenge from a coach’s perspective? Becoming a team,” said Sutter, whose team will open the tournament on Dec. 26 against Germany.
“It’s always the case when you are bringing players from across the nation to become one. You have to get everyone right away to buy in how we want to play.
“You can tweak things as you go along, but accountability has to fall into it right off the bat, responsibility. When that is all in play, the other things seem to work themselves out.”
Four tournaments have passed since the nation watched as the Canadian players had gold medals hung around their necks. But the tipping point for change came last winter in Ufa, Russia, when Canada, despite an NHL lockout that made all junior-aged players available, finished fourth. It was the first time since 1998 that Canada had not brought home a medal.
“We had to really look deep inside,” Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said. “We didn’t win a medal last year, and hey, that gets your attention. But you can’t throw everything out. It’s about adjusting.
“I look in the rearview at what countries have been doing, and guess what? They are working really hard at doing things differently and that is a big reason for change.”
Among the adjustments was an expansion of Hockey Canada staff earlier this year. And new head scout Ryan Jankowski, rather than just take on the arduous task of criss-crossing the country, also used a network including Canadian Hockey League general managers and NHL scouts to report on what they were seeing in junior rinks.
Also, Canada indicated in August its participation in USA Hockey’s summer exhibition tournament would be a one-shot deal, and sure enough, Nicholson told Sun Media on Monday that “a major change” will happen next year, in the form of a similar event to which Canada plays host.
For now, the 25-player roster represents the biggest change. In the past, between 35-40 players would be invited to the selection camp.
“This would not have been done this way if there was not a really clear direction when we left Lake Placid,” Sutter said. “You know the kids are going to come in and throw everything into it, and that is all you can ask from them. Try to put everybody on the right path and run with it and see where it takes us.”
There are some wrinkles for Sutter. Defenceman Mathew Dumba has been loaned from the Minnesota Wild, leaving four eligible NHL players — forwards Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado), Sean Monahan (Calgary) and Tom Wilson (Washington) and defenceman Morgan Rielly (Toronto).
Rielly, the Leafs have said, will not be in Sweden. Canada does not expect to get Wilson, while MacKinnon is a long shot. Monahan’s status is unclear because he is dealing with a hairline fracture in his foot.
Defenceman Griffin Reinhart, meanwhile, will miss the first three games as he finishes serving a suspension from last year’s tournament.
Canada’s roster is not due for submission until Dec. 25.
“If we get these players back, to be able to play in this tournament is huge,” Sutter said of the NHLers. “If we don’t, that’s fine too. I’m not losing sleep over it.”
There’s one constant, and you can probably guess what it is.
“There is no question that pressure is out there all the time,” Sutter said. “It’s just the way it is in our country, in any major hockey event. But we’re not concerned about a gold medal right now. Our concentration is focusing on Day 1, which is Dec. 12, when the kids get in. There is a process to get to where we want to get to, but the focal point has to be to take care of the day-to-day things and give ourselves the best chance.”