Injuries to key players complicate final picks

CALGARY — The decisions facing Don Hay at Canada’s selection camp for the world junior hockey championship have become more complicated.

CALGARY — The decisions facing Don Hay at Canada’s selection camp for the world junior hockey championship have become more complicated.

Trimming 13 players to get the roster set by Wednesday morning is one thing, but question marks surrounding two high-profile forwards carrying injuries further muddies the picture for the head coach.

The players in question — Jonathan Huberdeau and Quinton Howden — are expected to play big roles for Canada at the tournament that starts Boxing Day in Edmonton and Calgary.

“We have to make the decision tomorrow,” Hay said Tuesday of his roster. “We’ll put all the injuries into the discussions and really think it through.”

Huberdeau was the Memorial Cup MVP last season with the Saint John Sea Dogs and a standout at the junior team’s summer camp.

He hasn’t skated since breaking a bone in his foot Nov. 7, but Hay indicated Tuesday the big winger was close to getting back on the ice.

“We had planned to skate Huberdeau, but he went off-site (and) is doing a little swimming, water-recovery work for the foot and is progressing really well,” Hay said.

Canada’s head coach was less forthcoming about Howden, who plays for the Moose Jaw Warriors. He continued to label Howden’s ailment as an “upper-body injury.”

Howden skated off the ice bent over in pain Monday after Brett Connolly, who was loaned to Canada by the Tampa Bay Lightning, knocked him backwards into the boards during the second intra-squad game.

The Moose Jaw Times Herald reported in September that Howden suffered a concussion during the Florida Panthers rookie camp. There was a another report Tuesday that Howden was suffering concussion-like symptoms from the Connolly hit, but Hay was mum on the nature of the injury.

As one of four returning players from last year’s Canadian junior team, Howden would provide valuable experience in the lineup.

Huberdeau and Howden, both Panthers draft picks, can be difference-makers for Canada and worth hanging onto if there is a chance they can play.

It’s not without precedent that a player is released and then summoned back to the Canadian team because of injury.

Current Winnipeg Jets star Evander Kane was cut in 2009 but then asked to return after Dana Tyrell injured his knee in an exhibition game.

But keeping one or two extra bodies once the team is announced is not standard practice for Hockey Canada. If players are still questioning their place into next week, that’s a distraction from the team’s preparation.

“We have to review the policy right now,” Hay said. “They haven’t kept extra players around. The policy is that if a player gets hurt, you can bring somebody back before the tournament starts.

“Part of our decision making is where are the injured players at? What is their history? What would they add to our hockey club going ahead?”

Connolly admits Howden was in a vulnerable position, looking down for the puck when the two made contact.

Connolly expressed remorse after the intra-squad game but he was grilled by reporters about the incident Tuesday. Connolly says he and Howden had spoken about the incident.

“We settled whatever happened last night,” Connolly said. “Me and Quinton have played hard against each other in the Western (Hockey) League and NHL camps, him being in Florida. We’re both competitors. He’s going to hit me hard when he gets the chance and I’ll do the same thing.”

Connolly and Howden were teammates on last year’s silver-medal winning team.

“That would be hard for me to swallow if I was the guy who put him out of the tournament, but we’re going to hope he’s good,” Connolly said. “I think he’s doing pretty well right now. He’s got some time to get better and get healthy.”

It’s not the first time a player has been seriously injured at a Canadian junior team’s camp. Defenceman Colton Teubert broke Jordan Caron’s collarbone with an open-ice hit during the summer camp of 2009.

Caron missed the opening weeks of the season, but recovered in time to play for Canada at the 2010 world junior championship.