Strange times ups pro experience on Canada's junior men's hockey team

·5 min read
Strange times ups pro experience on Canada's junior men's hockey team

Canada's junior men's hockey team selection camp roster reflects an unusual consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The wiping out of the Ontario Hockey League's 2020-21 season injects a strong pro component into the Canadian team.

Nine of the 35 invited players bring a combined 190 games of American Hockey League experience to the table, driven largely by OHL players' need to find a place to play last season.

Defencemen Ryan O'Rourke and Donovan Sebrango, and forward Tyson Foerster, who were on last year's selection camp roster and released, bring a total of 114 AHL games between them.

The Canadian Hockey League and NHL agreeing to allow teenagers such as Manitoba Moose forward Cole Perfetti, who played over 30 AHL games last season, to return to that league instead of their junior club amps up the pro experience on Canada's roster.

"That's really nothing we've ever dealt with not only from an evaluation perspective, but also as we get into our preparation where we've had exemptions for CHL players to play in the American Hockey League," Hockey Canada director of player personnel Alan Millar told The Canadian Press.

"You look at both Cole Perfetti and a Donovan Sebrango, they're not part-time players in the American Hockey League. They're both averaging significant minutes, significant roles.

"I think those guys are going to bring a leadership, a determination in their game, a compete in their game because they're playing with men."

Hockey Canada will unveil its 25-player roster for the 2022 world junior men's hockey championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., following selection camp Dec. 9-12 in Calgary.

The goaltenders were already chosen, however.

Brett Brochu of the London Knights, Dylan Garand of the Kamloops Blazers and six-foot-seven Sebastian Cossa of the Edmonton Oil Kings will represent Canada, which opens the tournament Dec. 26 against the Czech Republic at Edmonton's Rogers Place.

"Cossa, Garand and Brochu certainly separated themselves," Millar said. "To add a fourth potentially complicates things at camp.

"We felt it was best to move from the evaluation phase to the preparation phase with this group, turn over Sebastian, Dylan and Brett to our goaltending coach Olivier Michaud, let him start working with them Dec. 9 and they've got all that preparation, team-building time to get ready for Boxing Day and beyond."

Garand, Perfetti and Oil Kings defenceman Kaiden Guhle played for the squad that fell 2-0 to the United States in the 2021 world junior final in Edmonton. Garand's playing time was limited to the third period of a 16-2 blowout of Germany.

Guhle's eventful Wednesday included both his selection to the camp roster and his trade from the Prince Albert Raiders to the Oil Kings.

The goaltenders, 11 defencemen and 21 forwards were chosen by Millar and the under-20 management group lead James Boyd, who is also general manager of the OHL's Ottawa 67's.

University of Michigan defenceman Owen Power already won a men's world championship gold medal with Canada in Riga, Latvia this year.

The six-foot-five, 214 pound defender was named to last year's junior camp roster, but the Wolverines did not release him to Hockey Canada.

Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard, 16, and Kingston Frontenacs forward Shane Wright, 17, were also among camp invitees for what is an under-20 tournament.

Anaheim Ducks defenceman Jamie Drysdale, Columbus Blue Jackets centre Cole Sillinger, Carolina Hurricanes forward Seth Jarvis and Los Angeles Kings forward Quinton Byfield were age-eligible to play for Canada.

Drysdale, Sillinger and Jarvis remain with their respective NHL clubs, while Byfield is out with a fractured left ankle.

Ottawa 67's head coach Dave Cameron steps behind the bench again 11 years after overseeing Canada to a silver medal in Buffalo, N.Y. in 2011. Canada fell 5-3 to Russia in the gold-medal game.

"My experience in this tournament is you've got to win in all different ways," Cameron said. "You have to be able to win when you have leads, you have to be able to win when there's a little bit of adversity, maybe giving up a bad goal or taking bad penalties and you have to kill them off.

"We want a team that's resilient. We want to play fast in all three zones. The opposition will have something to say about that, but we want to have a team that has an ability to stick with it."

The host country is scheduled to play pre-tournament games Dec. 19 against Switzerland, Dec. 20 versus Sweden and Dec. 22 against Russia.

Canada, the Czechs, Austria, Germany and Finland are in Pool A. Russia, the United States, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland comprise Pool B.

The 2021 tournament in Edmonton operated without fans because of the COVID-19 virus. Those who had purchased tickets were given the option of keeping them for 2022.

Fully-vaccinated fans can attend games in Edmonton and Red Deer. Hockey Canada requires all personnel involved in the tournament to be fully vaccinated 14 days before the start of the event.

The 2021 championship was also the first top-tier IIHF world championship played in the pandemic, and it adopted the bubble model of the 2020 NHL playoffs there.

Ten countries participated with nearly 600 people walled off from the general public for 24 days. Canada's selection camp in Red Deer was interrupted by a 14-day quarantine after two players tested positive.

Teams arriving by charter flights served a mandatory five-day quarantine upon arrival.

Germany was down to 14 skaters and two goaltenders for its first two games. A third of the team remained in extended isolation because of positive tests for the virus.

One German player remained in quarantine for the duration. Some pre-tournament games were cancelled.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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