In many ways, Quinton Byfield is nothing like the player or person who stepped on the ice for Team Canada just under a year ago.
That young, somewhat wide-eyed teen is gone and has been replaced with a bigger, stronger, tougher and faster model ahead of the 2021 IIHF U20 World Junior Hockey Championships.
Byfield is one of six players returning for Canada in hopes of repeating as gold medalists at the tournament that starts next month in Edmonton.
Until then, the players are in Red Deer for a month-long training camp where the 18-year-old and 46 others look to make an impression on Team Canada brass and earn a spot to compete for the Red and White.
“It’s been pretty crazy. Every opportunity you get with Canada is so special and I was just honoured to put on that jersey. Definitely excited to do that again hopefully and defend that gold,” said Byfield, who was delayed getting on the ice this week after waiting for a COVID-19 test.
“The last year has been crazy for me, super excited, it’s been a really good year for me.”
Byfield, who just weeks ago was selected second overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2020 NHL Draft intends to have an impact on Canada’s roster, much more than his one point in seven games last year.
He put on 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason to help with that goal and believes that will make him tougher to play against in the world juniors and beyond.
I think it’s a little bit more in my power and strength,” said Byfield, who noted he weighed in at 225 pounds for camp.
“I think I can be a little bit more explosive– quick little transitions and that’s going to help me quite a bit. Just using my body a little bit more, evolve my physical game, that will help me shield the puck and separate the body and the puck from opponents.”
His head coach, André Tourigny, who was an assistant coach with Canada last year, said it’s a night and day difference for the Newmarket, Ont. product.
“Huge difference. Today he was a man out there. I like his intensity, I like the way he works. Big body, he’s strong,” Tourigny said.
As the second overall pick in the most recent draft, plenty of eyes will be on Byfield at next month’s tournament, especially considering the top pick, Alexis Lafreniere, won’t suit up for Canada.
Still, Byfield respects the fact he has to earn any playing time he’ll get for his country.
“I wouldn’t say I’m expecting a bigger role, you have to earn it here. I’m just happy to get back on the ice and earn that role. I definitely want a bigger role, but you take any role that you’re given and work your way up,” he said.
Tourigny said that’s the case for every player on the roster at camp. He explained that Hockey Canada emphasizes to the players at every level they suit up internationally, it is about sacrificing to win gold. From the U17s all the way to the pros, that’s the way it’s done.
“You have the example of the men, the Olympics, World Cup and Championships, the players who play on the fourth line are Hall of Famers. They are unbelievable players,” he said.
“When you see that, you watch video of Sidney Crosby being in front of the net screening the goalie, that sells the message. Now, it’s a decision for those young men to decide who they want to be. Do they want to be on that team and win or do they want to score two goals and have their name in the paper for one day?
“Or their name forever, being a gold medalist. That’s the message.”
The head coach added that deciding who makes the team and represents Canada next month will be a tough decision, simply because of how close the talent gap is.
“Playing in the world juniors is a lot of pressure. They want to make the team. Between forward number eight on our team or six, to the 20th in the country, how big is the gap? There is no gap there… they are all good players. It’s the same this year,” he said.
“I look at the lineup, we talk about it everyday… the catchphrase all the time is how tough it will be to pick the team. It will be tough to figure out who will be our 14th forward or eighth defenceman, but that’s a good problem to have, I like that problem.”
Canada will continue to practice this week before the first intra-squad game on Saturday.