With apologies to Don Ho, there are no tiny bubbles when it comes to sports amid a pandemic. Goaltender Dylan Garand of Langford and former Victoria Grizzlies captain Alex Newhook will get the full-on bubble treatment when they take part in the longest selection camp in Canadian national junior hockey team history from Nov. 16 to Dec. 13 in Red Deer, Alta.
They are among the 47 players announced Thursday for the selection camp ahead of the 2021 IIHF world junior championship Dec. 25 to Jan. 5 amid a fan-less bubble in Edmonton.
The selection camp is being labelled the Red Deer “cohort bubble” before the main tournament bubble in Edmonton. “Our North Star is the relevant health authorities,” said Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney.
“Hockey Canada has taken important steps to maintain the health and safety of our national junior team athletes and staff, as well as the community at large, during selection camp and throughout the world juniors.
“As much as we would enjoy allowing fans into the building to support Team Canada throughout the camp, we need to be responsible as we look to keep all parties safe before teams enter the [main] bubble in Edmonton.”
About the length of bubble time, Hockey Canada senior vice-president of national teams Scott Salmond said: “It’s a unique year and a heck of a challenge, no question … [including] mental health. We will have a mental performance coach with us and rely heavily on him. The unique thing for us is the length. We will make it as entertaining as we can for the staff and players.”
The players and coaches appear ready for the long bubble haul.
These are junior players, noted Canada head coach André Tourigny.
“It’s not like they have three- or six-year-olds at home,” he said, during a Zoom conference with Canadian media.
“The players are excited. They want to play hockey.”
But they haven’t been doing much of it since major-junior was abruptly halted in March due to the pandemic.
“I’ve never coached a team that’s been off for seven months,” said Tourigny.
“It will be a first. You have to be ready to adjust. The length of the camp is an opportunity to take the rust off and build chemistry between the players.”
Garand said he is prepared for the experience, bubbles and all. “The length of the camp [followed by the world tournament] could be a bit of a grind, but I’m away from home, and in Kamloops, for long stretches anyway [during WHL seasons with the Blazers],” said the Island product, selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL draft by the New York Rangers.
Garand is among five goaltenders named for the Canada junior camp, including Taylor Gauthier of the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, Devon Levi of Northeastern University of the NCAA, and Tristan Lennox from Saginaw and Brett Brochu of London of the Ontario Hockey League. Three goaltenders will be named to the Canadian team, with Garand favoured to be among them.
“Playing in the world juniors has been a dream of mine,” said the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association graduate.
“I’m honoured and excited to get this chance to prove myself. I’m going in with a growth mindset. I’m going to dig and grind. The key to the camp is being consistent and not being on a roller-coaster.”
There are 15 defencemen who will take part in the camp, including Colorado Avalanche first-round draft pick and Victoria Royals’ WHL B.C. Division arch-nemesis Bowen Byram of the Vancouver Giants, one of six returnees from the 2020 gold-medallist Canadian team.
The quicksilver centre Newhook, who was the B.C. Hockey League top rookie in his first season with Victoria and BCHL MVP and leading scorer in his second season with the Grizzlies, is among 27 forwards invited. The Boston College sophomore, also a first-round NHL draft pick of the Avalanche, is one of four invitees from the college ranks and was named NCAA rookie of the year for 2019-20. There are 42 invitees from the major-junior umbrella Canadian Hockey League, including 15 from the WHL. There is one invitee from the NHL — forward Kirby Dach, who was made available by the Chicago Blackhawks.
The selection camp will include three intra-squad games and six games against a team of U Sports all-stars between Nov. 28 and Dec. 13.
Canada opens the world junior tournament on Boxing Day against Germany, a surprising and sudden factor, with three Germans taken in the first two rounds of the 2020 NHL draft at No. 3, No. 17 and No. 34.