If any of the opposing coaches are wondering how to strategize against Canadian defenceman Bowen Byram in the 2021 IIHF world junior championship tournament, they might want to drop a line to Victoria Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
Price faces the same dilemma 10 times a season in the Western Hockey League as the Royals face the Vancouver Giants more than any other team. That’s not to mention two bitterly contested playoff series between the Royals and Byram-led Giants.
Byram, the standout Vancouver blueliner, was named assistant captain for Canada on Friday along with Dylan Cozens of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Kirby Dach of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, a graduate of the Saskatoon Blades, was named captain to make it an all-WHL leadership group for Canada.
Byram has accounted for many an uncomfortable night for Victoria hockey fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in the cross-strait Royals-Giants derby.
“Bowen Byram is like having a fourth forward on the ice to deal with,” Price said of the offensively-minded rearguard.
“That’s how active he is. He plays the entire width and depth of the offensive zone. You have to take away his time and space, and always aggressively apply pressure on him.”
Canadian team head coach Andre Tourigny, from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, said of his choice of all-WHL leadership group: “These three players are all leaders in their own right, who have the respect of their teammates.
“Kirby [Dach] has set a standard for himself through his commitment and determination, which is a great example for the others on our team. He has a strong desire to represent his country. Bowen [Byram] and Dylan [Cozens] are veterans who know what it takes to win at this tournament, and their voices will be important in our leadership group.”
Byram and Cozens are among six returnees from the 2020 gold-medallist Canadian team. Price and Royals fans get another rare chance to root for Byram in the 2021 world junior tournament taking place from Christmas Day to Jan. 5 in a bubble in Edmonton.
So, too, for WHL B.C. Division rival goaltenders Dylan Garand, the Langford product who plays for the Kamloops Blazers, and Taylor Gauthier of the Prince George Cougars. They have made many a splashy save against Royals shooters on Blanshard Street and represent two-thirds of the Canadian crease trio, along with Devon Levi from Northeastern University of the NCAA.
“The goaltending in the B.C. Division is exceptional,” said Price.
“Garand and Gauthier have similar characteristics in that they are very athletic and very competitive, much like Griffen Outhouse was for us during his career.”
Also on the Canadian team are Victoria’s rivals, forward Connor Zary of the Blazers and defenceman Kaedan Korczak of the Kelowna Rockets, leaving the Royals as the lone B.C. Division team without a representative in the world junior tournament.
There is, however, an Island club represented on the Canadian team through former Victoria Grizzlies captain Alex Newhook, now with Boston College in the NCAA.
After their junior national team duty, Byram and Newhook will continue as teammates in pro hockey. Both were 2019 first-round draft picks of the Colorado Avalanche, Byram taken fourth overall from the Giants and Newhook 16th overall from the Grizzlies.
Canada returned to the ice Friday following a quarantine break after entering the Edmonton bubble on Sunday. The hosts play exhibition games against Sweden on Monday and Russia on Wednesday.
The world junior tournament begins Christmas Day with defending champion Canada opening on Boxing Day against the COVID-struck German side.