The final countdown to the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship is on and Brent Sutter is ticking off the hours.
“It will be nice to get it going,” the Canadian national junior team head coach said Wednesday, less than 24 hours before departing for Toronto and a three-day Team Canada selection camp to be attended by 25 players.
“It’s been quite a process since June with the changes we made in regards to our summer camp and the number of players we’ll have at this final camp.”
Sutter, who coached Canada to gold-medal triumphs at the 2005 and ‘06 world junior championships at Grand Forks, N.D., and Vancouver, accepted the head coaching position for a third time in June after discussions with Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson and senior director of hockey operations Scott Salmond.
“We all agreed on some changes and it’s been a work in process since then,” said Sutter, who had 38 players attend an August camp that — for the first time ever — included playing in a four-team international tournament at Lake Placid, N.Y.
The 25 players checking into the final selection camp which runs Friday to Sunday is an all-time low attendance and doesn’t include Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, who may eventually be made available to Team Canada and be part of the final 22-man roster.
“The key part now is deciding who the three final cuts are going to be,” said Sutter. “As it stands now, we have to release one defenceman and two forwards. If we get Morgan Rielly, we’ll have to release two defencemen.
“The coaching staff will have to decide if we make the cuts before we leave for Europe on the 15th or do we wait and get in some more practices and an exhibition game overseas.”
As for Rielly’s possible availability, the Maple Leafs will have to make that decision by Dec. 19 — the date NHL rosters freeze for the Christmas break — at which time the Canadian squad will be in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the team will be based until leaving for Malmo, Sweden and their WJC opener Dec. 26 versus Germany.
“There’s a chance we will get him. Ultimately that decision will rest with Toronto,” said Sutter. “As of today, I haven’t been told one way or the other.”
Sutter’s 2005 junior national squad was a talented powerhouse that dominated all comers. The 2006 team was regarded as more of a blue-collar crew and wasn’t expected to repeat as champion or even compete for a medal, but rode a strong work ethic and a commitment to team defence to another gold.
“In terms of talent, I think we’re closer to the ‘06 team,” said Sutter. “You might say our forwards are a little more talented than what we had that year as far as having a couple of top-end guys like (Jonathan) Drouin and (Nic) Petan, but our defence is certainly like what we had in ‘06.
“Our goaltending, though, is younger. In fact, our whole team is younger than in past years. Half of our team this year consists of 18-year-olds and we may have a 16- and a 17-year-old in (Connor) McDavid and (Aaron) Ekblad.”
Not that age makes any difference with Sutter, even though the WJC is primarily a tournament for 19-year-olds.
“It doesn’t really matter, you just have to be able to play,” said the head coach. “This is a high-level, high-stakes tournament and you have to be at your best to succeed, especially with the parity now. What’s different now is that all of the countries are closer in calibre than they ever have been.”
The national team will practise Friday at the Mastercard Centre of Excellence in Etobicoke, where they will take on an Ontario university all-star team Saturday and conduct one final practice session Sunday morning before departing for Denmark later in the day.
Team Canada has WJC pre-tournament games set for Dec. 20, 22 and 23 against Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. The games will be played in Angelholm and Trelleborg, Sweden, both located within 160 km of Copenhagen.
l The details relating to Tuesday’s WHL deal between the Red Deer Rebels and Portland Winterhawks were made public on the league’s website Wednesday.
In the event that Minnesota Wild and former Rebels defenceman Matt Dumba reports to Portland, Red Deer — which already received forward Presten Kopeck — will get the ‘Hawks’ second-round bantam draft pick in 2014 and 2015 and either their second- or third-round pick in 2016, depending on when Dumba reports.
If the Wild do not release Dumba to the Winterhawks, the Rebels will owe Portland their third-round pick in 2014 in return for Kopeck.
l The Rebels return to action Saturday at the Centrium against the Lethbridge Hurricanes.