Team Canada to start making cuts Tuesday

The Canadian junior hockey team’s selection camp was once a marathon but now is over in the blink of an eye.

Canada's Team White teammates Mathew Duma (8) and Jaden Schwartz (23) take out Canada's Team Red defenceman Philip Danault

Canada's Team White teammates Mathew Duma (8) and Jaden Schwartz (23) take out Canada's Team Red defenceman Philip Danault

CALGARY — The Canadian junior hockey team’s selection camp was once a marathon but now is over in the blink of an eye.

Less than 48 hours after stepping on the ice for the first time at camp, players will be released Tuesday morning in the opening round of cuts. Canada’s 22-player team will be announced Wednesday following the final cuts.

Players who travelled hundreds of kilometres with the dream of playing for their country in the upcoming world junior hockey championship will be sent home after just two intra-squad games.

There was a time when those invited had at least a couple more on-ice sessions to impress coaches before the first players were let go.

They’d arrive on Sunday and be on the ice twice a day before the team was named Friday.

There were three rounds of cuts during that span instead of two, which also bought players more time.

But selection camp has been steadily compressed in recent years to this.

Head coach Don Hay called off Monday morning’s scheduled skates to rest players for the night’s second intra-squad scrimmage of camp. He prefers quality ice time over quantity.

“We want to see the best from them that they can give us,” Hay said.

“We don’t want to evaluate a tired group or tired players.”

The elimination of Monday morning’s sessions means the 42 invited players were on the ice three times before the first ones were to be sent home.

They did skate Sunday morning for an hour, but the players spent much of it shaking out their travel legs. There was little testing of their competition and battle skills.

The two scrimmages factor the most into Hay’s deliberations over who stays and who goes Tuesday morning.

The four goalies will likely remain for an exhibition game at night against a university team. But Tyler Bunz of the Medicine Hat Tigers still wanted to get on the ice Monday morning to showcase his talent.

“I think I’d like to have more chances,” Bunz said.

“For me, I’m a consistent goalie and every ice session I go out there and compete hard and play the same I would the night before.

“For the most part, I think a lot of guys would like to have more ice sessions and show what they can do. Tonight could be a game where I get two shots or I get 30.”

But Portland Winter Hawks winger Ty Rattie believes there’s no point prolonging the process.

“I like it when it’s short and compressed rather than a week or week and a half long,” he said. “Just like tournament play, you have a bad game you might be out of the tournament.

“If you have a bad game here, you might have lost your spot on the team, so it’s exciting and I like it better.”

What’s changed selection camp is Hockey Canada has a better scouting book on each player when they arrive at camp.

The annual series between Canadian Hockey League teams and Russian squads has become more competitive, which provides head scout Kevin Prendergast a more accurate read on a prospect pool of about 70 players.

Canada’s under-18 men’s program expanded when it began entering the world championship a decade ago. When choosing players for the under-20 team, Hockey Canada can look at their history in that competition.

Information from those events, combined with a player’s performance with their club teams and at the summer junior camp gives Prendergast and Hay a fairly complete picture of what they’re getting at selection camp.

So why bother with a selection camp at all, as short as it is? And why bring 42 players — when the average has been around 36 — to camp this year?

“The answer is we feel all players here are deserving of an invite to be evaluated at this level,” said Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada’s vice-president of hockey operations. “We’re not bringing players for numbers.

“If the player is deserving of being here and has a chance to make the team in some sort of role, then we’re going to bring him to camp.”

While a player’s history is taken into account in choosing Canada’s team, Prendergast says selection camp is still the deciding factor.

“There’s a lot of questions marks coming in here and a lot of ties,” Prendergast said. “This guys is as good as this guy. Who separates themselves in these games?”

A player can drop or rise on Hay’s depth chart based on his performance in just one game at selection camp. In some ways, a quick, intense selection process simulates the tournament itself, the coach points out.

“It’s a short tournament,” Hay said. “We don’t have a lot of time to spend going over things. They have to pick up things quick and do the right things.”

Hay, Prendergast and assistant coaches Scott Walker, George Burnett and Ryan Huska were preparing for the difficult task of releasing players.

Hay is no stranger to the process as this is his second time as head coach of Canada’s junior team. He cut Brett Lindros from the 1995 squad that won gold in Red Deer, Alta., and was reminded of that Monday.

“I think it was the right call and we went on to win the gold medal,” Hay said. “He was a good player, but he just wasn’t suited for that team.”

The players were also preparing for a sleepless night, although Bunz for reasons other than nervousness. He says roommate Scott Wedgewood of the Plymouth Whalers snores.

“He’s kept me up a couple of nights now,” Bunz said. “It sounds like he’s eating a pillow.”

Rattie doesn’t have a roommate and isn’t keen on hearing the phone ring early in the morning.

“I’ve got my own room so I know if that phone rings tomorrow, it’s not for anybody else,” he said. “Not going to sleep good at all.”

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brett Connolly was dealing with a “lower-body bruise” Monday. Hay didn’t believe it was serious.

Saint John Sea Dogs winger Jonathan Huberdeau remained off the ice because of a broken bone he suffered in his right foot Nov. 7. He arrived at camp wearing a walking cast on his right foot.

Prendergast said Huberdeau put on his skates Monday and walked around to see how the foot would respond.

The Memorial Cup MVP is such a talented player, team management is willing to wait and see if he’ll be healthy enough to play in the world junior championship.

“We have to be 100 per cent sure he can play at 100 per cent in the tournament and once we’re at that point, we’ll make a decision,” Prendergast said.

Canada opens the world junior hockey championship Dec. 26 in Edmonton versus Finland.