Hockey Canada chose 25 players Friday to represent the host country at the world junior hockey championship in Edmonton.
Three goalies, eight defencemen and 14 forwards were picked from a selection-camp roster of 46 for the tournament Dec. 25 to Jan. 5 at Rogers Place.
Six are veterans of the 2020 Canadian team that won gold in Ostrava, Czech Republic: forwards Quinton Byfield, Dylan Cozens, Connor McMichael, Dawson Mercer and defencemen Bowen Byram and Jamie Drysdale.
Chicago Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach is Canada’s lone NHL player.
Nine play in the Western Hockey League, eight in the Ontario Hockey League, four in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and three skate for NCAA Division 1 schools.
The New York Rangers didn’t release Alexis Lafreniere, the first overall pick in this year’s NHL draft, to the Canadian team.
Choosing this year’s Canadian team was difficult for staff and harsh for the players because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All players isolated in their hotel rooms for 14 days midway through selection camp because two tested positive for the virus.
Exhibition games against university teams were cancelled.
Five players were released for health reasons before selection camp resumed Tuesday in Red Deer, Alta.
Another 16 were cut over the span of two intrasquad games before Friday’s roster reveal.
Less scouting data on players was available because the WHL and OHL have yet to play a game this season. Pandemic interruptions have plagued the QMJHL.
There wasn’t an annual Canada-Russia Series in which each of those leagues play two games against a Russian side. Summer camp was virtual because of the pandemic.
“I think everybody understands this was not a normal year in terms of evaluating the players to put this team together under some difficult circumstances,” said Moose Jaw Warriors general manager Allan Millar, who is member of the Canadian team’s managerial staff.
“We’re real excited we’ve got to this point and down to our 25-man roster and that we have our team.
“This group of players gives our coaching staff a lot of balance. I think it gives our coaching staff a lot of flexibility in terms of how they want to utilize the roster. I think this is a fast, skilled, very deep group.
“Our expectations are going into Edmonton and defending our gold medal.”
Dylan Garand, Taylor Gauthier and Devon Levi will compete to be Canada’s starting goalie in the tournament.
Canada is scheduled to play pre-tournament games Dec. 21 and Dec. 23 against Sweden and Russia, respectively.
Dylan Holloway, Peyton Krebs, Alex Newhook, Jakob Pelletier, Cole Perfetti, Jack Quinn, Ryan Suzuki, Philip Tomasino and Connor Zary round out the forwards.
All 14 forwards are first-round draft picks of NHL teams.
Holloway of Bragg Creek, Alta., was a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in this year’s draft. He looks forward to playing for his country at what could be his future home NHL rink.
“Just to think in the future I could be possibly playing there is really awesome,” Holloway said.
“I’m going to be able to be in the Oilers’ dressing room and playing in Rogers is a pretty special feeling so I’m pretty excited for that.”
Justin Barron, Kaiden Guhle, Thomas Harley, Kaedan Korczak, Braden Schneider and Jordan Spencer join Byram and Drysdale on the blue-line.
Guhle of nearby Sherwood Park, Alta., made the team as an 18-year-old.
“No fans is the only downside, but it’s going to be very exciting,” Guhle said. “It’s a dream come true. It’s tough to make this team as an 18-year-old.”
Hockey Canada staff allowed Holloway and Guhle’s mothers to tell them via a video call that they’d made the team.
“She was cheering and congratulating me and she didn’t tell me what she was congratulating me for, so I had to ask her,” Guhle said.
The Canadian team and nine other countries are scheduled to enter Edmonton’s “bubble” on Sunday.
Five days of quarantine and daily tests await them before they can get on the ice.
“When we get to Edmonton, we’re going into quarantine again, so the next three days will give us time to have good times together, share some laughs and be more in a team environment than 46 fighting each other to make the team,” Canadian head coach Andre Tourigny said.
“We hope in the next three days we can build some chemistry and as well have three good practices.”
The coach observed his players lacked stamina in Wednesday’s intrasquad game, which wasn’t surprising after two weeks off the ice.
With another five days of isolating ahead of them, there’s little time for Canada’s team to increase on-ice fitness.
“We need to have a good balance between pushing and resting,” Tourigny said. “We can push, but we cannot push to the point of breaking.
“If we go too fast, we’ll get injuries. We need to be smart with it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2020.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version identified the tournament’s location as Rexall Place.