A heavily Eastern-tinged Canadian roster is headed to The Q Centre next week for the national selection camp to the 2019 IIHF world junior championship tournament.
Of the 34 players named Monday, only seven are from the Western Hockey League. Twenty-two players will be selected for the Canadian roster during the camp in Colwood, which will feature three games against the U Sports all-star team from Dec. 12-14.
“We have difficult decisions to make in Victoria,” said Canadian head coach Tim Hunter, in a conference call with Canadian media.
“We are looking for versatility and flexibility within our system.”
It will be seventh consecutive year for the selection camp series against the U Sports players, many of whom themselves are former Canadian Hockey League major-juniors.
“It gives the junior players a chance to gauge their ability against older, smarter, heavier U Sports players,” said Hunter, who coaches the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL.
“It’s a good measuring stick. It’s a good way for us to evaluate our players.”
That’s because, as Hunter put it: “The medal round of the world juniors is like playing against American Hockey League players.”
Tickets for the Canada-U Sports games are $15 and available at HockeyCanada.ca, SelectYourTickets.com and Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre box offices. They are not available at the Q Centre.
The tuneups against the U Sports all-stars will be followed by two Victoria exhibition games in which Canada will play Switzerland on Dec. 19 and Slovakia on Dec. 21, both at the Memorial Centre.
“The selection camp represents the first step in bringing a special group of players together in Victoria,” said Steve Staios, from the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence management group, who helped select the 34 players.
The number of invitees to selection camp varies from year to year.
“It’s a moving target each year,” said Shawn Bullock, director of men’s national teams for Hockey Canada.
“We feel we have 34 players this year who can make the team,” added Bullock, during the media teleconference.
“Our final decision will be difficult ones, but we couldn’t be more excited to gather in Victoria and begin the road to representing Canada in Vancouver.”
Team Canada will headline Group A at Rogers Arena, beginning on Boxing Day, while Group B will be based at the Memorial Centre in Victoria.
There are three goaltenders, 12 defencemen and 19 forward coming to the Sport Chek Selection Camp at The Q Centre.
The two returnees from the 2018 gold-medallist Canadian team are Maxime Comtois from Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Alex Formenton of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
“They will be sharing their experiences of being a part of this before and that will really set the tone in Victoria,” said Hunter.
The OHL leads the way with 14 players named to the selection camp, with eight from the QMJHL, seven from the WHL and four from NCAA.
The WHL players invited are goaltender Ian Scott of the Prince Albert Raiders, defencemen Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs, Calen Addison of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Josh Brook of Moose Jaw and forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan of the Chiefs, Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks and Brett Leason of the Raiders.
Despite featuring two NHL first-round draft picks in Smith and Glass, the low number of WHL invitees has raised eyebrows around the league. And Anderson-Dolan is injured and has been named subject to health.
“Everything is cyclical,” said Brad McEwen, Hockey Canada’s head scout, who led the management group which made the selections.
“Maybe the [WHL forward] group is not as dynamic as in the past.”
But this is a national team.
“We’re not looking regionally at all,” said McEwen.