OAKVILLE— Canada’s World Junior hopefuls reached another checkpoint in the Selection Camp process.
Now having completed the doubleheader of practices on Tuesday, the team is now ready to embark on actual games between U Sports on Wednesday and Thursday. A chance for the Canadian selectees to apply the skills and knowledge gained in practice into an actual contest.
Day 2 of the World Junior Selection Camp was filled with a lot of firsts. It was the first time highly touted Sudbury Wolves prospect Quinton Byfield took the ice, after surviving a seven-hour flight delay on Monday. It was the inaugural media availability for Hunter brothers, Mark and Dale, providing insight and perspective on the players on the ice and the character they want in the locker room.
Watching the practices, it is clear that a Dale Hunter-led junior team will be focused on puck possession, speed, and skill.
“We are a skilled team,” said Hunter after Tuesday’s evening practice. “But we need to be a hard-working team. We are going to need to play on top of the puck all the time.”
Team Canada’s Injury Concerns
On the first day of Selection Camp, Los Angeles Kings prospect Aidan Dudas briefly skated before leaving the ice. On Tuesday, Dudas did not participate in any of the two practices.
When asked about Dudas’ status, Mark Hunter reaffirmed what Brad McEwen (Head Scout, Hockey Canada) said on Monday, that they are taking his status “day by day.” Dudas not practicing in either of the two scheduled practices on Tuesday is a cause of concern, especially with the two U Sports games coming up.
Another player absent from the Tuesday practices is consensus No. 1 draft pick in the 2020 NHL Draft Alexis LaFreniere. LaFreniere, who also missed Monday’s practice due to a maintenance day. was seen working out on the bike while his teammates were on the ice.
Coming into the Selection Camp, the Rimouski Oceanic forward had played four games in five nights. While his spot on the junior roster is not in question, it appears unlikely that he will play in the U Sports games, in order to be healthy ahead of the start of the World Junior Hockey Championship on December 26th.
“He needs a few days off for maintenance time,” said Mark Hunter. “He has a few bumps and bruises that need to be cleared up.”
Second Consecutive Day Team Canada Goalies Shine
Goaltending is always a pillar that needs to be addressed for Canada’s World Junior teams. And this team is no different.
However, for the second straight day, the four goalies at the selection camp have remained poised and effective in between the pipes. Whether it is getting into positioning or dealing with the blazing shots from the Canadian forwards and defensemen, Joel Hofer, Hunter Jones, Nico Daws, and Olivier Rodrigue have each made their case to be one of the three goalie spots on this year’s team.
Unlike previous years, where the goalies coming to Selection Camp had international experience, the four goaltenders this year lack in this department. But what they fall short in terms of representing Canada, they make up for it in their stellar performances in the short-term.
Below are the stat lines for each of the goalies at this point in the season:
It is evident that the strategy of Canada’s coaching staff is to employ netminders who have the “hot hand” in the present. This means that the U Sports games will go a long way in determining the goalies who can raise their performance against tough competition. According to Dale Hunter, “all four goalies will play” in both games, giving them all ample time to showcase their skills.
Daws was one goalie that Coach Hunter had high praise for. The OHL’s leader in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage, Hunter from his experience coaching the London Knights the dominance Daws can bring in the crease.
“Nico didn’t get much of a chance to play last year, backing up an older goalie,” said Hunter. “But they come back with a younger team and Nico has stood tall for them. It is a credit to the team and especially him.”
Team Identity Rounding into Shape for Team Canada
The two practices on Tuesday provided an opportunity for the line combinations for the first day to take shape.
Below are the forward lines that were used:
The defensive pairings also remained consistent from Monday’s practice. Below are the pairings from Tuesday’s morning practice:
Unlike Monday’s practice, the coaching staff spent Tuesday evening’s session focusing on special teams. With the offensive firepower Canada possesses, it is not surprising that their power play will make a resounding impact.
Below are the power play lines from Tuesday’s practice:
Perfetti – Foote – McMichael
Lavoie – Thomas – Addison
With the fast-paced nature this team possesses, it places great expectations on the 17-year-olds who are at the camp. Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, and Jamie Drysdale have all shined on their respective OHL franchises.
But on the big ice and a grander stage at selection camp, every moment completing a drill in practice may end up determining their spot on the team. For Drysdale, he has become accustomed to blocking out the noise and focusing on the things that he can control.
“My confidence is high right now,” said Drysdale. “I just want to be able to show that I can play at both ends of the rink.”
Team Canada will take on U Sports on Wednesday at 5 pm EST.