Team Canada hit the ice on Monday for a pair of practices at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan. The 39 players were split into two groups with each group spending 90 minutes on the ice. The lines were:
FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTE-STEPS
Adam Foote won an Olympic gold medal for Canada in 2002 and helped the country win a World Cup in 2004. Now, it's his son's turn to wear the Maple Leaf. Cal Foote is among the top contenders to earn a roster spot on the Canadian blue line. It is an opportunity he was forced to wait for.
Foote was born in Colorado when his dad played for the Avalanche. As a result he wasn't eligible to suit up for Canada internationally until after he played two years in the country. So, last year Foote sat out the world juniors as he played his second season in Kelowna. He could have chosen to play for Team USA, but he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps.
"I think I've always had the Canadian blood in me just growing up watching my dad so I think it's always been in me," he said. "I was young when he had the most success, but I remember the 2004 World Cup."
Like his father, Foote prioritizes the defensive side of the game, but unlike his old man Cal seems to have a real nose for the net. "I like to add to the offence a little more than he did," the 18-year-old said. "No disrespect to him, but I think I have more offensive upside." Foote posted 57 points in 71 WHL games last season.
"He's his own player," said Dillon Dube, Foote's teammate on the Rockets. "Lots of guys say, 'Oh, he plays like his dad,' and obviously his dad gave him some tips but, nothing against Adam, but Cal's a pretty skilled player. He does a lot. He's a producer. He's kind of created his own game. Although I think he got a lot of that hockey IQ being around the rink at a young age and being around a lot of NHLers."
On that point, Cal definitely agrees. "My brother (Nolan) and I loved going into the locker room after games, win or loss; it was awesome to see all the guys and just sit back and watch how they go about their business."
Adam coached Cal for four years after he retired from the NHL and he has provided plenty of advice in helping his son rise up the prospect ranks, leading to him getting drafted 14th overall by Tampa Bay in June. And the senior Foote is expected to be in Plymouth this week to watch his son start to build his international hockey résumé.
"WE WANT TO PUSH THE LIMITS"
Foote is part of an incredibly deep blue line, which also features returning players Jake Bean, Dante Fabbro and Kale Clague. "It's pretty impressive," said head coach Dominique Ducharme. "We have different kinds of guys: more physical guys, bigger guys and a lot of guys who can move the puck a lot and are good in transition. We have a really good mix."
The battle for roster spots will start heating up on Tuesday when Canada plays a pair of split-squad scrimmages against the United States. One of the messages the coaching staff has sent to the group has been: find your edge. Ducharme was asked what that meant specifically. "We want to challenge ourselves," the coach explained. "We want to push the limits. We want to create an edge on everyone. What we did last year, we want to take that further. We are looking for guys who are playing with an edge and taking advantage of other players on the other side in at least one way. We ask them to bring that edge every time."
OILERS' GOALIE PROSPECTS DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER
With the Canadian players split into two groups so far that has meant the four goalies have also been split up. And it shouldn't be any surprise that Stuart Skinner and Dylan Wells ended up in the same group. The pair seem to be attached at the hip of late. They roomed together at previous Canadian camps at the under-17 and under-18 levels and also at the Oilers recent development camp. That's right, both Skinner (third round in 2017) and Wells (fifth round in 2016) were drafted by the same NHL team.
"We're basically following each other everywhere," said Skinner with a chuckle. "It's nice to know him and we have a great relationship."
That friendship makes high stressful situations like the World Junior Summer Showcase easier to handle even though they are competing against each other for a job.
"We have a really good relationship," said Wells. "Every time we step on the ice we try and push each other and that makes us that much better."
Both Wells and Skinner have a good reason to be in a good mood of late.
Wells boosted his save percentage from .871 in 2015-16 to .916 last season with Peterborough in the OHL and earned an entry-level contract with Edmonton. "I just kept things simple," he explained. "I didn't really overthink my game. I focused on the basics a lot in the summer in re-sculpting my game and had a lot of good coaches surrounding me."
Skinner boosted his save percentage from .905 in the regular season to .916 in the WHL playoffs this year, helping the Lethbridge Hurricanes make the conference final. He credits Oilers goalie coach Dustin Schwartz for refining his technique and improving his skating.
And the cherry on top for both was actually scoring a goal. And, yes, they both did the fly-by celebration at the bench afterwards.
"What a feeling," said Skinner, who potted one against the Medicine Hat Tigers in March. "It's pretty hard to describe ... somehow I got it in and, I mean, I kind of went crazy and got butterflies."
"I can't really describe it," said Wells, who victimized the Kingston Frontenacs in a playoff game in April. "It's been a few months now and it still hasn't sunk in. The first few days afterwards I re-watched the video and said, 'Wow, I really did that.'"
ROCK ... PAPER ... SCISSORS ... RUN!
Just because you're warming up doesn't mean you can't have a little fun. Team Canada's hopefuls incorporated a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors into their routine:
UPCOMING CANADIAN SCHEDULE
Tuesday: Scrimmages against Team USA
Wednesday: Game against Team Finland
Friday: Game against Team Sweden
Saturday: Game against Team USA