Familiarity helps Canada
by Chris Jurewicz|12 DEC 2020
Bowen Byram and Quinton Byfield are among the returnees from last year’s gold-winning team.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Familiarity helped with Canada’s process to finalize its group of 25 players for the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championship.

Even though Canada organized the longest selection camp in junior history at 26 days and invited a large group of 46 players to vie for a spot on the team (last year’s selection camp included 31 players, in comparison), management and coaches didn’t get the number of on-ice looks they expected during that time. Canada’s 26-day camp was halted when two players tested positive for COVID-19, forcing all players and staff into a 14-day quarantine.

Knowing many of the players from prior Canadian program teams and from their respective club teams was an asset in Canada finalizing its roster on Friday. Click here to see Canada’s and other rosters.

“It helped for sure,” says Andre Tourigny, Canada’s head coach. “There was two parts to our evaluations: what they did in the six days (prior to quarantine) and what they did the last three days. And there was also what they did in the past with their own team or with us in the program. We needed to have a balance. You can have an elite player arrive at camp and he might have a bad week so you have to be careful and not push him aside if he has performed well for us before.”

Nine of the 14 forwards and three defencemen who cracked the final roster were at camp in 2019 and again this year. Six players from Canada’s 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal winning team are back to defend the title: Quinton Byfield, Bowen Byram, Dylan Cozens, Jamie Drysdale, Connor McMichael and Dawson Mercer.

While excited to get this point, Canada’s management and coaches acknowledged just how difficult it was.

“This camp has been unconventional from the outset with the number of players invited and the length of camp, along with the schedule adjustment due to our two-week shutdown, but we feel we have selected a group that will give us the best chance to defend our gold medal on home ice,” says Alan Millar, U20 lead for the Program of Excellence management group at Hockey Canada. “It’s never easy making decisions to trim down a roster, especially when every player handled adversity, faced challenges head on and remained committed to the process through our off-ice workouts and Zoom sessions.”

Perhaps the most difficult part of this selection process for Canada’s players and staff was the 14-day quarantine. It started on 23 November when two players tested positive for the coronavirus (three other players were subsequently deemed “unfit to play” based on return to play protocols) and ran through 8 December.

There was online poker, a rock-paper-scissors tournament, virtual yoga sessions, guest speakers, and video games that kept the players busy in Red Deer, Alberta, the small city located between Edmonton and Calgary that played host to Canada’s camp.

The players and staff kept as busy as they could for those two weeks but everyone was itching to get back on the ice. On 8 December, Canada continued a revised selection camp, cancelling planned games against USports athletes (made up of players in Canada’s collegiate and university system) and, instead, holding practices and two intrasquad games.

It was after that second game that Canada made its final cuts.

“I can’t say enough about the incredible resiliency from our players, from our staff, everyone around our group in getting through what has been a difficult 14 days in quarantine,” says Salmond. “But it was certainly worth it when you see the excitement of the players getting on the bus and then being on the ice. Now our main challenge is remaining healthy through the next few days and getting into Edmonton on the 13th.”

Finalizing the roster on Friday meant Canada would get three practices together as a team in Red Deer. On Sunday, players and staff travel to Edmonton and will face another quarantine the following four days, standard for all countries participating in the World Junior Championship. Provided all goes well, the team will hit the ice on 18 December for its first practice in Edmonton, prior to exhibition games against Sweden on 21 December and Russia on 23 December.

“Up front, we have a lot of skill, a lot of speed as well and depth,” says Tourigny in describing his team. “We want to push the pace as much as we can; playing with speed and pace is where we want to separate ourselves. We have solid defence who skate very well, move the puck, play shut down and steady roles. All our D are really good defensively.

“We have in identity, we have a way we want to play. If we do what we have to do and play the way we can play, we will be a tough team to play against.”