Sports

Scott Stinson: Breaking down Canada’s WJHC 2018 selection camp roster

It is one of the better indicators of the passion-slash-madness
that Canada has for the World Junior Hockey Championship that
the announcement of the training camp roster is nationally
televised. That was to be followed by a prime-time special and
what will be frequent updates on which of the 34 teenagers will
attempt to defend the gold medal won last year. We remain nuts
for this thing. But other countries are catching up: witness
the five different countries that have won the gold medal over
the last eight tournaments, or the fact that the Swedes were so
devastated by losing the final last year that the captain fired
his silver medal into the stands. Canada no longer holds the
monopoly on emotional investment in the world juniors, but it’s
the only country that has a title sponsor for camp. So, what
was learned at the announcement of the National Junior Team
Sport Chek Selection Camp roster?

Nick
Suzuki #37 of the Owen Sound Attack skates against the
Peterborough Petes in an OHL game at the Peterborough Memorial
Centre on November 15, 2018 in Peterborough, Ontario,
Canada.
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

The Big O

Of the 19 forwards invited to camp, 10 of them are playing in
the Ontario Hockey League. Head coach Tim Hunter said on a
conference call on Monday that junior leagues ebb and flow in
terms of available talent. “Right now the cycle is there are a
lot more skilled forwards in the OHL than anywhere else,” he
said, of a group that includes Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick
Suzuki (Owen Sound) and Alex Formenton (London), who played
nine games for the Ottawa Senators this season before returning
to junior. Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen said the
management group didn’t worry about league balance when
assembling the roster, which includes three forwards from the
WHL and four from Quebec. “We’re not really looking regionally
at all,” he said. Evidence of that: There are just seven
players in total from the WHL, despite the tournament being
played this year in Vancouver and Victoria.

Canada
forward Maxime Comtois (14) and Canada forward Alex Formenton,
right, celebrate a goal against Sweden during third period gold
medal final IIHF World Junior Championships hockey action in
Buffalo, N.Y., on Friday, January 5, 2018.
Nathan Denette/The Canadian
Press

Fresh turnover

Formenton and Maxime Comtois are the only two returnees from
last year’s gold-medal team, and Hunter said they are not
anticipating any late additions to the roster as NHL teams
decide what to do with their young talent. The coach said it
will be helpful to have at least those two who have been
through the world-junior ringer before, not just because they
are familiar with the level of competition but also due to
their experience with the media and fan attention that far
exceeds what players normally see in their junior careers.
Notably, none of the defence invitees have played in the world
junior before, where last year’s squad was anchored by four
returning defenders, including tournament MVP Thomas Chabot.

Shane
Bowers poses for a portrait after being selected 28th overall by
the Ottawa Senators during the 2017 NHL Draft at the United
Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.
Stacy Revere/Getty
Images

CanCon

In addition to Suzuki and Formenton, the Canadian training camp
roster includes another half-dozen players with links to this
country’s NHL teams. Forward Shane Bowers will be joined by
fellow Ottawa Senators prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker, a
defenceman who, like Bowers, plays his club hockey in the NCAA.
Defenceman Josh Brook was a second-round pick of the Montreal
Canadiens in 2017 and Evan Boucher, another defenceman, is
property of the Edmonton Oilers. Two of the three goaltenders
are from Canadian NHL organizations: Michael DiPietro
(Vancouver) and Ian Scott (Toronto). DiPietro is the likely
number-one goalie, but in the WJC that usually doesn’t mean
much until the medal round. Scott, who didn’t take part in Team
Canada’s summer exhibition games, played his way onto the team
with his strong play for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL
this season, where he is 22-1 with a 1.61 goals-against
average. “He’s really steady in the net,” said Hunter. ‘No
doubt he’s a capable goalie.”

Toronto
Maple Leafs goaltender Ian Scott is scored on by Ottawa Senators’
Alex Formenton during overtime period NHL Rookie Showdown hockey
action in Laval, Que., Saturday, September 8, 2018.

Graham
Hughes/The Canadian Press

Men against boys

As has become custom in the pre-tournament run-up, the Canadian
team will have a series of games against an all-star team of
university players, almost all of whom will have completed
their major-junior careers. Hunter said the management team
likes to see their prospects go up against the “older, smarter,
heavier” university-level players, who he said play a style
closer to the AHL than what is normally seen in junior.
“Playing the medal round (of the world junior) is like playing
in an AHL playoff game,” Hunter said.

Jake
Kryski #16 of the Calgary Hitmen fights for the puck against Josh
Brook #2 of the Moose Jaw Warriors during a WHL game at the
Scotiabank Saddledome on December 2, 2018 in Calgary, Alberta,
Canada.
Derek Leung/Getty Images

Home turf

Whoever is ultimately chosen for the Canadian side, they will
be expected to again have the benefit of a raucous home crowd
after attendance challenges at the under-20 tournament over the
past few years. Ticket sales were slower than expected in
Montreal and Toronto for the last two times the tournament was
held in Canada, and they plummeted last year in Buffalo, where
an anticipated cross-border deluge didn’t happen. Hockey Canada
executive director Tom Renney said on Monday that the games in
Vancouver and Victoria are almost all sold out, even those not
involving the home team. Once the roster is pared to 22 by
mid-December, Canada and the other competing teams will take
part in a series of exhibition games in nine B.C. communities.
That tour, of course, also has a title sponsor.

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