CALGARY — Steve Spott has chosen the 23 players he believes will give Canada the best chance at a gold medal at the upcoming world junior hockey championship.
The question is, will he still have them when the tournament tournament opens Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia?
Canada’s coach doesn’t know that.
While there’s no end to the NHL lockout in sight yet, there’s a feeling not a lot separates the owners and players in negotiations. Earlier this week, the league cancelled games until Dec. 30, but training camps could conceivably start before that if an agreement is suddenly struck.
“I am confident, but at the same time I understand some of the decisions that are going to be made as we go forward are really out of our control,” Spott said following the announcement of his team.
“If I’m going to lose sleep, it’s going to be over a decision I’ve made personally. We can’t control it. It’s unfortunate to a degree, but I’d like to think that when we get on the plane on Saturday that we’ll finish with the same group we started with.”
All countries must submit their tournament rosters on Dec. 25 and no forward or defenceman can be added after that. A goalie can be added during the tournament in the event that one of the two are injured.
The Canadian players depart Calgary on Saturday for a pre-competition camp in Finland. They fly to Ufa on Dec. 23.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers is the lone NHL player on the team, but there are others who would have played in the league if the season had started on time.
The worst-case scenario for Canada is an NHL club recalls a player after the 25th. The team will then forced to both play a shorter bench in Ufa plus compensate for the loss of an important player.
“Is it a great situation? No. There are some players it could affect,” Spott said. “But one thing we determined real early was if we had the players we do today, that we were going to take them and we held true to that.”
So while the NHL lockout puts Canada in the rare position of having its top under-20 talent available to it, it injects uncertainty into preparations.
Hockey Canada senior director of operations Scott Salmond is in discussions with the general managers of NHL clubs who have the rights to Canada’s players what their plans would be if the lockout quickly ended.
“We’ve got some people who have committed their players all the way through no matter what happens in the lockout and some others that haven’t and that we’re going to continue to talk to,” Salmond said.
If the NHL resumes, it will be a mad dash to playoff berths and the Oilers have young legs. Salmond says he’s spoken to NHL GM Steve Tambellini “it’s certainly their intention to have Ryan in the lineup when the season resumes.”
Of the six returning players from the squad that won bronze in the 2012 junior tournament in Alberta, only defenceman Scott Harrington (Pittsburgh) and forward Boone Jenner (Columbus) currently have the green light to play for Canada until the tournament ends Jan. 5.
There is not yet the same firm commitment for Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), Dougie Hamilton (Boston) and Ryan Strome (New York Islanders).
Hockey Canada can only watch and be ready react to what the NHL does. The likelihood of the NHL meddling with Canada’s junior team seems to become more remote with every day the lockout continues, but the uncertainty continues.
“With that date of Dec. 30 being out there, I don’t think that helps us necessarily,” Salmond said. “If it was January second, third or fifth, I think it would play more into our favour. You’ve got to kind of look at that rolling calendar of cutting games.”
Spott could recall a player from the final three defencemen or four forwards released Thursday prior to the tournament.
“If there should there be a situation where we have to make calls, then we’re fully prepared with the group we saw today,” the coach said.
In a year where the team had Canada’s best 19-year-olds available, a pair of 17-year-olds made it onto the team. Halifax Moosehead teammates and linemates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin were among the 13 forwards chosen.
On the 1995 and 2005 junior teams also bolstered by lockouts, defenceman Wade Redden (1995) and Sidney Crosby (2005) were the only 17-year-olds on those teams.
“We feel this can’t be a team selected purely on age,” Spott said. “Jonathan and Nathan have proven they can compete at this level. They play against 18 and 19 year olds every night in Halifax. They just re-affirmed what we thought.”
Anthony Camara, Phillip Danault, Charles Hudson, JC Lipon, Ty Rattie and Brett Ritchie will be Canada’s other forwards. Ryan Murphy, Xavier Ouellet, Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly and Tyler Wotherspoon join Hamilton and Harrington on the blue-line.
Jordan Binnington, Jake Paterson and Malcolm Subban were the goaltenders selected and all are out of the Ontario Hockey League.
The Canadian team is taking a third goaltender to Ufa as insurance against injury to either the starter or backup. Spott had yet to inform the third goalie he would be an alternate.
“It’s such a special evening for these young men right now that’s going to be a little bit of a bittersweet conversation so we’re going to save that for this week when we sit down with one of those three and have that conversation,” Spott said. “It’s a special night and I wanted to keep it that way.”
Canada won five straight gold from 2005 to 2009 and then took silver in 2010 and 2011. Canada dominated the tournaments of 1995 and 2005, so there are high expectations on this team to reclaim gold.
“I think it’s good pressure,” said Murphy, a defenceman who made the team on his third try. “Everyone knows how great this team could be so it’s just preparing us for what everyone expects from us.”
Along with MacKinnon and Drouin, 19-year-old Lipon is the only other undrafted player on the team.
The OHL dominates the team with 11 players, followed by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with six and the Western Hockey League with five and one from the NHL.
Notes: Released from the team Thursday were forwards Daniel Catenacci, Mark McNeill, Hunter Shinkaruk and Tom Wilson, defencemen Frank Corrado, Mathew Dumba and Ryan Sproul, as well as goaltender Laurent Brossoit . . . Nugent-Hopkins, chosen first overall by the Oilers in 2011, is the highest draft pick in a lineup that includes 10 first-round draft picks . . . The Boston Bruins lead all draft picks with three.