Authors: Jordyn Moussa & Peter Baracchini
We’re into the second half of December, and with that comes the start of the World Junior season… and Christmas. I’ve never been one to hide how I feel about the roster Hockey Canada chooses to ice over the Holiday season, and this year is no different. Though the team may not be as star-studded as it has been in years past, this team is just as capable as any. There are always a few surprises when it comes to the finalization of Team Canada’s roster for the World Junior Hockey Championships. In Peter’s initial roster prediction, there were a few notable omissions that he thought deserved a chance to make the team. Then again, other players such as Blake Speers stepped it up and pushed others who would make the team out of contention.
Canada will always have a young and talented group of players to fight for minimal spots each year to take part in the annual tournament. This year’s team, however, will be focused on more of a team that will pride itself on hard work in both ends, rather than just relying on skill throughout the lineup. This is where this year’s roster differs from last year. Canada went in with the mindset that offense was the key. While you need a steady amount of offense, a strong balance is always crucial in the makeup of a team’s roster. This was evident in the roster Hockey Canada selected.
Hockey Canada’s 2017 National Junior Team:
Goalies: Carter Hart (Everett Silvertips, PHI), Connor Ingram (Kamloops Blazers, TBL)
Defence: Thomas Chabot (Saint John SeaDogs, OTT), Noah Juulsen (Everett Silvertips, MTL), Jake Bean (Calgary Hitmen, CAR), Philippe Myers (Rouyn Noranda Huskies, PHI), Kale Clague (Brandon WheatKings, LAK), Dante Fabbro (Boston University, NSH), Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn Noranda Huskies, BOS)
Forwards: Dylan Strome (Erie Otters, ARI), Mathew Barzal (Seattle Thunderbirds, NYI), Mitchell Stephens (Saginaw Spirit, TBL), Pierre-Luc Dubois (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles/Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, CBJ), Michael McLeod (Mississauga Steelheads, NJD), Mathieu Joseph (Saint John SeaDogs, TBL), Dillon Dube (Kelowna Rockets, CGY), Anthony Cirelli (Oshawa Generals, TBL), Tyson Jost (University of North Dakota, COL), Nicolas Roy (Chicoutimi Saugeneens, CAR), Julien Gauthier (Val d’Or Foreurs, CAR), Blake Speers (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, NJD)
Going into Selection Camp, Peter and I each had slightly different ideas as to who we thought would be representing Canada at the tournament, although we were both rather close.
Jordyn’s first impressions:
Overall, this team is very similar to what I had pictured once the Selection Camp roster was announced. Although, I was surprised to see that Hockey Canada chose to name Clague, instead of Girard to the team – if only because Ducharme knows exactly how dominant Samuel Girard has played offensively in the QMJHL this season. Clague, who is known for being an excellent skater with good vision and a good release, likely won out over Girard because of his ability to get pucks on net while still maintaining a physical presence on the ice. It isn’t often a physically demeaning player can skate as well as Clague can while still contributing offensively. Not to mention, in terms of offensive defencemen, Canada has that covered with the likes of Chabot and Bean. Fabbro also plays with an offensive flair – some have considered him to play a similar style to that of Shea Weber (which undoubtedly is a reason why Nashville selected him in the most recent draft).
In goal, Hart and Ingram were the two best goalies going into camp, and during. Although McNiven’s numbers weren’t as impressive heading to Montreal, Ingram and Hart both play for significantly better teams. It was likely McNiven’s fist game against the USports All-Stars that solidified his fate, after he let in three quick goals on minimal shots. Based on the play we’ve seen out of Hart and Ingram, it is a safe assumption, for now, that they should perform much stronger than we saw from Blackwood and MacDonald last year. Though, they will rely on their defence to get the job done in front of them.
The only surprise of the forwards, for me – although it really wasn’t much of a surprise based on how his season has gone, is how short of a camp Nick Merkley got – and that it was his teammate, Dillon Dube, who ended up being selected to represent Canada this Christmas. It was obvious early that Hockey Canada wanted to be a fast skating team with a bit of an edge that can score aplenty. It was likely Dube’s excellence on the penalty kill that separated him from his Rockets teammate, Merkley, for one of the spots up front. Like many “undersized” guys, Dube plays a big game, and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas for the puck – often outmuscling larger players than would consider him to be less competition in the physical aspect of the game.
Another surprise was which Soo Greyhound made the team. Plenty of media members were expecting Zach Senyshyn to be named to the team, being on a hot streak as of late, in the OHL, but it was Blake Speers who cracked the lineup, despite not having played a full OHL game yet this season. Joel Bouchard, the General Manager of this years team, said that there was a look in Speers’ eye and a compete level that made it impossible for them to send him home.
This is the first time in years that Hockey Canada has named two NCAA players to their National Junior Team, and this year it is incredibly deserving. Both Fabbro and Jost had great showings at the U18s in NoDak in May, and played well at the summer evaluation camps. Jost was considered to be a lock going into the selection camp, but Fabbro made it impossible for Hockey Canada to reject him with his play at camp against the USports All-Stars, and the Czechs.
Peter’s first impressions:
Canada will have a great mix throughout the lineup. There’s the high-end offense with Jost and Strome, strong two-way players like Mitchell Stephens and Michael McLeod and players with great size and scoring abilities in Mathieu Joseph and Nicholas Roy. The same is to be said with the defense where players have a good mix of moving the puck extremely well and providing a strong defensive presence their own end.
Canada created a roster that could compete against the other powers in Finland, Sweden, Russia and the United States. I think they have that with the 22- man roster that will try to replicate what the 2014-15 team did with the likes of Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Connor McDavid.
The main concern comes down to goaltending. Carter Hart looked solid during the camp and hopefully he can provide the backbone to help lead Canada to another gold medal. Canada has seen it’s ups and downs over the years in the crease and Hart is showing that he is worth it.
I think the biggest surprise to me was the early omission of Victor Mete. The London Knights defenseman was in the first round of cuts after Canada’s second game against the U Sports All- Stars, scoring a goal in the game.
Not only is he known for his talent as a puck-moving defenseman, Mete is noticeably strong in the defensive end despite his size. He has a strong ability to use his speed to his advantage and has great vision to shutdown opponents as they enter the defensive zone. Even if he didn’t make the roster, I thought Mete deserved a longer look than what he was given.
The same could be said with Brett Howden of the Moose Jaw Warriors. Howden was someone who I thought could’ve been used in a fourth line role, while contributing to the penalty-kill. His two-way presence and impact in the faceoff circle is visible, which is why I was really surprised to see him get cut.
Overall, Team Canada looks ready for their quest for gold. Although, we thought the same thing with the talent that was on the team last year and they finished in sixth place. That result alone is disappointing. For Strome, Barzal, Stephens, Gauthier and Chabot, they’ll look to use last year as motivation and lead this group back to the top of the hockey world. They’ll be one of many factors in order for Canada to be successful at this tournament.
The Canadians have a tough test out of the gate with a matchup against Russia on Boxing Day. If Canada wants to make amends for last year, they need to give 110 per cent and stick to Ducharme’s game plan. They’re going into the tournament with a different mindset. Last year was another reminder that Canada isn’t the hockey superpower they thought they were. The competition is more difficult this time around. Hopefully this team can answer the call and win the ultimate prize.