Even though he’s a virtual lock to be invited to Hockey Canada’s world junior team selection camp, Regina Pats centre Sam Steel is still nervous.
Steel and other top amateur players across the country will keep their phones handy on Wednesday as Hockey Canada holds a news conference to announce who will have the opportunity to earn a spot on its world junior championship roster.
The native of Sherwood Park, Alta., was invited to selection camp last year but did not make the final cut. Steel set a torrid pace in the Western Hockey League after that setback, leading the league in points with 50 goals and 81 assists and earning WHL player of the year honours. He also participated in Canada’s Summer Showcase development camp, an off-season leadup to the selection camp.
“It being the second time around at camp I might be a little less nervous,” said Steel on Tuesday in a phone interview from Regina. “But still, it’s a hard team to make and if you get that opportunity it’s a huge honour.”
After attending Anaheim Ducks training camp in September, Steel returned to Regina and has continued to prove his worth, scoring 12 goals and adding 18 assists in 24 games this season.
Canada’s selection camp will be held at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, Ont., next week as Hockey Canada whittles its roster down to 23 players. Part of that process includes games against a team of all-stars from U Sports on Dec. 13 and 14 and then an exhibition game against Denmark on Dec. 15.
Steel will likely be invited to the selection camp on Wednesday and is a favourite to make Canada’s team that will play at the world juniors in Buffalo, N.Y., from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. After last year’s selection camp head coach Dominique Ducharme — who is back behind the bench for Canada — told Steel that his exclusion from the team was more about his age and timing rather than changing anything about how he plays.
Now 19, Steel took that advice to heart and kept working hard on and off the ice.
“I just need to keep showing them what I can do, what I’ve shown them over the last two camps,” said Steel. “Just play my game to its fullest potential.”
It’s expected that seven players will return from last year’s silver-medal winning team. Goaltender Carter Hart (Everett), defencemen Jake Bean (Calgary), Kale Clague (Brandon) and Dante Fabbro (Boston University) and forwards Dillon Dube (Kelowna), Michael McLeod (Mississauga) and Taylor Raddysh (Erie) are all eligible returnees.
Other players likely to be invited to the selection camp are Steel’s Pats teammate Josh Mahura, Ontario Hockey League leading scorer Jordan Kyrou (Sarnia), centre Robert Thomas (London), and goalies Michael DiPietro (Windsor) and Dylan Wells (Peterborough).
Many of the players will be familiar to Steel, who played on Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament along with Hart, Bean, Clague, Fabbro, Dube, McLeod, Kyrou and Wells.
“There’s always a lot of those guys that you don’t see a whole lot so when you go to the camps it’s good to see them,” said Steel. “I’m excited to hopefully see all those guys.”
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press