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Who Makes Team Canada…and Why!

Tis the season to start thinking about the world juniors.

For Team Canada’s coaching staff, headed up by Don Hay of the Vancouver Giants, and head scout Kevin Prendergast, a lot of thought has already went into their roster make-up.

Hay

Prendergast

Past track records, summer evaluation camp performances and play to this point in the season were all taken into account in announcing the 41 invites to next month’s selection camp in Calgary, Dec. 10-14 (http://tsn.ca/world_jrs/feature/?id=54015).

Canada always ices a medal contender at this under-20 tournament and, looking at the list of potential players, this year should be exception. Potential is the key word, however, as anything can happen over the course of a couple weeks and nothing is guaranteed once the puck drops on Boxing Day with Canada facing Finland in Edmonton.

First things first, pick the team. Based on the 1992-birthdate or younger criteria, Canada could ice forward lines featuring Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, Brett Connolly, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sean Couturier. Just think about that “potential” dominance for a second . . . OK, now forget about it.

None of those studs will be suiting up for Canada, at least it’s highly unlikely, with all six starring for their respective NHL teams and not expected to be released for this year’s showcase.

Still, Canada won’t be dressing any duds. Of the 41 invites, all are capable of competing at the highest junior level, but only 22 will make the final cut to serve their nation.

Who will be called upon to don the Red and White come Christmastime remains a matter of much debate. Internet message boards, such as HFboards.com, are filled with 40-plus page threads discussing lineup options and even line combinations for Canada.

Nobody in that forum is privy to Prendergast’s crystal ball or Hay’s notepad, but some predictions seem more educated — or at least calculated — than others.

Filtering through the fan-boys — the guys clearly, and conveniently, finding room for their favourite NHL team’s prospects or their local CHL team’s leading scorer — there seems to be rhyme for some of this reasoning.

The names that appear on almost every mock roster include the trio of returnees from last year’s silver-medal winning squad: Forwards Jaden Schwartz and Quinton Howden, and goaltender Mark Visentin, though the latter two aren’t locks.

Here’s who I have making the grade:

Forwards

Schwartz

1) Jaden Schwartz — A scoring winger with a wicked shot and an unmatched will to win. He also has experience from last year, though his tournament was cut short by a broken ankle. His sister, Mandi, lost her battle with cancer last April and Schwartz will also be using that close, and highly publicized, bond as inspiration. Expect him to wear a letter and be a key contributor throughout this year’s tournament.

Gallagher

2) Brendan Gallagher — The next biggest lock, in my opinion. Hay’s golden boy in Vancouver, Gallagher almost made last year’s world-junior team, then almost stuck with the Montreal Canadiens out of training camp this season. He’s small in stature, but plays a big, power game that personifies the old cliché — not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. Gallagher’s been a Giant of a man among boys in the WHL this season, so pencil him into the top-six for Canada.

Howden

3) Quinton Howden — Experience helps his cause, as does versatility in Howden’s ability to play a scoring or shutdown role. There’s also some familiarity here, being a WHL guy, although Moose Jaw is in the opposite conference and Howden doesn’t get many chances to leave an impression on Hay. This call may ultimately be made by one of Canada’s assistant coaches, Ryan Huska (WHL, Kelowna Rockets), who was also behind the bench in Buffalo for last year’s world juniors. I have Huska endorsing Howden, thus securing his spot.

Huberdeau

4) Jonathan Huberdeau — He’s a winner, a Memorial Cup MVP last season and arguably the most skilled prospect for this team. He’s scoring at more than two points-per-game this season in the QMJHL and his offence will be a welcomed addition for Canada.

Strome

5) Ryan Strome — Likewise to Huberdeau, his offensive instincts are all-world and should be enough to warrant a spot. Strome will need to show some sort of commitment to playing an all-around game to win over the coaching staff, but I think his scoring prowess is too much to pass up.

Stone

6) Mark Stone — Sticking with that trend, Stone is the WHL’s version of Huberdeau or Strome. A late bloomer, he’s blossomed into a constant threat for the Brandon Wheat Kings, scoring almost at will this season. Stone has more size and sandpaper to his game than the previous two, so should be his rubber stamp.

Scheifele

7) Mark Scheifele — Another somewhat similar player to Stone, but with better speed and more playmaking ability. Scheifele’s NHL experience will serve him well and he should be a big-time player in this tournament.

Rattie

8 ) Ty Rattie — Teams can never have enough offence, especially when matching up against the Russians or Americans, and that’s Rattie brings to the table. He’s part playmaker, part finisher, but, most importantly, a proven producer. He’s another WHL player, one that has shone against Huska and Hay on several occasions.

Phillips

9) Zack Phillips — More offence? Why not. Phillips and Huberdeau have chemistry in St. John and will carry that over to Team Canada.

F. Hamilton

10) Freddie Hamilton — Chemistry you say? Hamilton and Strome are quite the tandem in Niagara as well, so keep them together and reap the benefits.

McNeill

11) Mark McNeill — These last three spots are the tough ones. McNeill is the total package with size, scoring and intangibles, plus a history with Hockey Canada at our tournaments where he has taken his game to another level. He’ll need to impress at the camp, but assuming he does, he’s a strong candidate to round out the depth chart.

Bulmer

12) Brett Bulmer — What Gallagher is to Hay, Bulmer is to Huska. He’s known more for offence in Kelowna, but it was his grit and checking ability that allowed him to stick with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild to start this season. Bulmer will fall back into that role with Canada and should be able to deliver the goods.

Pearson

13) Tanner Pearson — The extra forward spot is wide open, with 11 players still making a case for themselves. I’ll go out on a limb and pick Pearson for the sake of picking somebody, but I wouldn’t be surprised by anybody. It’s not like past years where there’s an “under-age” forward with a bird-cage knocking at the door that could ride the pine for experience and exposure. This year’s extra will be a contributor in some capacity, it just depends whether Hay wants a big-body presence that can be a power-play specialist like Pearson, or whether he’d rather an on-the-edge antagonist like Brad Ross, who could be this year’s Steve Downie or Jordin Tootoo. Ryan Spooner or Tyler Toffoli could add even more offence, and Michael Bournival is another name that slotted into several projected rosters, so maybe there’s more to him than I know. Time will tell . . .

Defence

D. Hamilton

1) Dougie Hamilton — Yes, he’s Freddie’s brother and another Niagara IceDog. In fact, he’s leading their team in scoring as a defenceman and is a towering presence that can play any role assigned to him.

Gormley

2) Brandon Gormley — He likely would have made the cut for last year’s team had it not been for a knee injury. Gormley’s healthy and contributing at both ends of the ice this season, so providing that holds up, he should have a spot to lose.

Morrow

3) Joe Morrow — Maybe it’s the WHL goggles again, but I think Morrow not only makes the team, but becomes an impact player. He might overshadow some of the bigger names by tournament’s end and could find himself manning the point on Canada’s top power-play unit.

Petrovic

4) Alex Petrovic — Morrow can be a bit of a riverboat gambler at times, though his speed helps him recover from those risks. Still, you need a steadying force on the back end and Petrovic has that presence. He’s not as flashy as the rest of this core, but he’s consistent and responsible. I like that potential pairing and hope it comes to fruition. Edmonton’s Mark Pysyk could also be a fit here, as another primarily stay-at-home, physical defender to offset Morrow’s skill-set and tendencies. I don’t think there’s room for both Pysyk and Petrovic as I see them competing for the same spot. I went with Petrovic because of a recent live viewing when covering a Red Deer game in Kelowna in which he stood out, more so than Rebels teammate Matt Dumba.

Murphy

5) Ryan Murphy — Injuries are again wreaking some havoc ahead of this year’s selection camp, with Murphy still recovering from a concussion. He has a special skill-set that can’t be duplicated by anyone else at camp, so if Murphy’s cleared by doctors I expect him to be on the team. And if he’s completely healthy and not hesitant when the tournament gets going, consider Canada that much more dangerous.

Murray

6) Ryan Murray — Like Murphy, Murray has been sidelined for much of this season with a high ankle sprain. His Everett team has struggled, stuck in the WHL’s basement, but Murray is a difference-maker when in the lineup — for Everett and, hopefully, for Canada.

Beaulieu

7) Nathan Beaulieu — Again, the seventh defence spot is a bit of a crapshoot. There’s a few strong candidates, but I like Beaulieu based on his offensive instincts and ability to fill in for either Murphy or Murray if need be.

Goal

Bunz

1) Tyler Bunz — He’ll enter camp as a favourite for one of the two positions, but emerge as the undisputed starter. He’s extremely athletic, quick and well-positioned, plus he plays the puck like an extra defenceman. That quality is becoming more and more important in today’s game and Bunz is as good as any goalie auditioning for this year’s team. Some might be worried about hitching the wagon to another Edmonton Oilers goaltending prospect after Olivier Roy’s struggles in Buffalo, but I have more confidence in Bunz to get the job done.

Wedgewood

2) Scott Wedgewood — Perhaps a surprise pick. Wedgewood also attended last year’s camp and had the chance to play for his junior coach, Dave Cameron, but ended up getting cut. Cameron probably wishes he had Wedgewood over Visentin in Buffalo, and I think Hay will avoid making the same mistake twice.

Depth Chart

Forwards

Schwartz-Howden-Gallagher

Huberdeau-Phillips-Rattie

F. Hamilton-Strome-Scheifele

Bulmer-McNeill-Stone

Pearson

Defence

D. Hamilton-Murphy

Gormley-Murray

Petrovic-Morrow

Beaulieu

Goal

Bunz

Wedgewood

Overview

Chances are this won’t be the final roster, but that’s my two cents on what the team could look like. My squad would be comprised of 10 WHL players, seven from the OHL and four from the QMJHL, plus Schwartz from the NCAA.

That’s obviously West-heavy, but as Prendergast indicated in my magazine feature for the December 2010 edition of Dubnation.ca, familiarity and chemistry are two key factors in putting the pieces together for a national team. And with two coaches from the WHL, plus two from the OHL in George Burnett (Belleville Bulls) and Scott Walker (Guelph Storm), my roster makes more and more sense.

In a few weeks time, all this speculation will be put to rest and we’ll know exactly who will be out to avenge last year’s gold-medal collapse against Russia with the goal of restoring Canada’s spot atop the podium on the evening of Thursday, January 5th.

Gold, Silver or Bronze?

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Cindy Simpson
    November 30, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Larry, little do I know of hockey but like to keep in the loop and surprise Jeff once in awhile with something . So liked what I read and will continue with your blog. Wishing Sarah and you Happy Holidays, shes beautiful. Great tour of the life of Larry!!

    • November 30, 2011 at 10:19 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Cindy. Greatly appreciated. You probably checked the blog out before my dad haha hope life is treating you well and likewise enjoy the holiday season!

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