JUNIOR SELECTIONS REFLECT CANADA’S GOALTENDING DEPTH
The puck won’t drop at the world juniors for almost three weeks, but Canada and the U.S. are already neck and neck. Shocker. One day after the American side announced it will have seven players back from its 2017 gold medal-winning squad, Hockey Canada revealed Wednesday it will have the same number of returnees at this year’s IIHF under-20 tournament.
It sets up yet another fascinating showdown between rivals, who met in last year’s thrilling final in Montreal, where the U.S. won 5-4 thanks to a goal from Troy Terry, the sixth player in an epic shootout.
“We’re fortunate we’ve got a good core of returnees,” Hockey Canada president and COO Scott Smith said after unveiling the 32 players invited to next week’s selection camp in St. Catharines, Ont. “Having them back after what they went through last year will be something our team will learn from.”
Canada’s final 22-man roster will be announced Dec. 15.
Two pre-tournament games in Ontario — London (Dec. 20) and Hamilton (Dec. 22) — will follow, with the tourney running Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Buffalo.
The marquee game will be a Dec. 29 afternoon tilt between Canada and the U.S. played outdoors at New Era Field, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Canada’s strength promises to be goaltending, led by returning starter Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips. Hart, 19, is pacing all WHL goalies in goals-against average, posting a sparkling 1.46 GAA through 14 starts.
With three other netminders invited to camp — Michael DiPietro (OHL Windsor), Samuel Harvey (QMJHL Rouyn-Noranda) and Colton Point (NCAA Colgate) — officials suggest Canada hasn’t had such goalie depth in years.
“We don’t bring four goaltenders to camp a lot, but when we discussed it I don’t think they gave us much choice,” Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen said. “They’re all playing very well. History says that for teams that do well in the tournament, goaltending is a big part of it.”
Canada’s blue-line is armed with experience as Jake Bean (WHL Calgary), Kale Clague (WHL Brandon) and Dante Fabbro (NCAA Boston U) are returning. Cale Makar (NCAA UMassAmherst), selected fourth overall by Colorado last year, Winnipeg Jets first-rounder Logan Stanley (OHL Kitchener), and Adam Foote’s son Cal (WHL Kelowna) also nabbed invites.
Calgary Flames draft pick Dillon Dube (WHL Kelowna), Michael McLeod (OHL Mississauga) and Taylor Raddysh (OHL Erie) are the returning forwards.
Ottawa Senators picks Alex Formenton (OHL London) and Drake Batherson (QMJHL Cape Breton), as well as Vancouver Canucks selections Jonah Gadjovich (OHL Owen Sound) and Kole Lind (WHL Kelowna), will also be in camp, which starts Tuesday.
Sylvan Lake, Alta., star Tyler Steenbergen (WHL Swift Current), who has 35 goals and 61 points in 27 games, will also be at camp.
“I think our strength is depth,” McEwen said of a team that will be coached by Dominique Ducharme (QMJHL Drummondville) again. “We probably don’t have a generational-type player, but we have a real good team. I think we can bring offence from deeper in our lineup and I think in this event that’s the key thing because it’s hard for your top guys to always produce because of the quality opposition.”
OHL leading scorer Jordan Kyrou, of Sarnia, will also be part of Canada’s camp, as will WHL player of the year Sam Steel, of Regina, who was cut last year.
One notable player left off the invite list was Owen Tippett, the 10th overall pick this summer who started the season with the Florida Panthers before being returned to the Mississauga Steelheads after seven games.
Canada has claimed world junior gold only once in the last eight holiday seasons (2015), a span that has seen five different winners, including three triumphs by the U.S. Before that, Canada won five in a row.
“There are some demands always on Canada, but you never take things for granted,” Smith said. “We’re not playing in Canada but darn close to it, which is a big challenge. Obviously that outdoor game against the U.S. will have an impact because of where and how it’s played.”
Talk of some of Canada’s top junior players being recruited for the Olympic team was muted Wednesday when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would not stand in the way of Russians participating, which would likely mean he won’t block KHLers from competing.