Hockey Canada

Forty-two players to battle for jobs at WJHC selection camp

The Canadian Press
12/10/2011 5:36:36 PM
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CALGARY -- Brandon Gormley is finally getting a chance to play for the Canadian junior men's hockey team after two years of disappointment.

Cut from the team as a 17-year-old, the Moncton Wildcats defenceman would have made the squad last year. But a knee injury forced him to watch the 2011 world junior championship on television from his home in Murray River, P.E.I.

"It was definitely heartbreaking to have to sit at home last year," Gormley said Saturday. "I'm glad to be back here again and hopefully take advantage of it. It was definitely a long road to make this team.

"It's always been a dream of mine to play here. It would be very special to play."

The Phoenix Coyotes prospect is a solid bet to be on Canada's blue-line at the 2012 world junior championship starting Boxing Day in Alberta.

Gormley is among 42 players invited to try out for the team this week in Calgary. Head coach Don Hay, also coach of the WHL's Vancouver Giants, is expected to announce the 22-player Canadian team Wednesday morning.

Canada was a silver medallist the last two years after a run of five straight gold. The host country's bid to re-claim gold starts Dec. 26 in Edmonton versus Finland.

Canada lost the final in Buffalo in heartbreaking fashion. Leading 3-0 heading into the third period, Russia scored five unanswered goals to take the title.

The Canadians will play their Pool B games in Edmonton. Russia is in Pool A in Calgary and that city will also host the playoff games, including the Jan. 5 final.

The last-minute additions of NHL players Devante Smith-Pelly of the Anaheim Ducks and Brett Connelly of the Tampa Bay Lightning was a boost to Canadian team.

But just as quickly as the roster grew, it shrunk by one. Kingston Frontenacs forward Ryan Spooner was not able to attend camp because of mononucleosis.

Forty-two is still a large group when the average in recent years was less than 40.

"No doubt about it. It's probably been one of our biggest groups," Hay said. "It's big because of the closeness of the competition. It's going to be a fine line to make that last cut and there's going to be some tough decisions for us."

The players are split into red and white squads. They practise in the morning and play an intra-squad game at night both Sunday and Monday.

Hay says he'll release some players after Monday's second intra-squad game. Those who remain will face a university team in Tuesday's exhibition game before the team is announced the following day.

"You know it's a real short camp here so they don't have a lot of time to wait around," Hay said. "They have to start real quick."

Toronto native Smith-Pelly was a standout at summer camp in Edmonton, creating space for himself and his linemates to generate scoring chances. Connolly played for Canada in the 2011 tournament.

"Both those players have an impact in coming back," Hay said. "Brett made the team the last year so he's a veteran presence coming back.

"Smith-Pelly was really good at camp. He's brings a real good physical presence, big strong guy and that's the way we want to play."

Both Smith-Pelly and Connolly expect to return to their NHL clubs following the tournament.

"Right now my focus is on Team Canada and Team Canada only," said Connolly. "I want to help the team win a gold medal as much as I can and be the best leader I can."

Connolly, Jaden Schwartz of Colorado College, Quinton Howden of the Moose Jaw Warriors, and Niagara IceDogs goaltender Mark Visentin are the veterans from the 2011 squad.

Schwartz fractured his ankle in Canada's second game in Buffalo and didn't play again in the tournament. His sister Mandi was ill with cancer at the time and died April 3 at the age of 23.

The Wilcox, Sask., native has a demeanour that makes him seem older than his 19 years. Schwartz is a strong candidate to be team captain, but he's just excited about his second chance to go for gold.

"I've got butterflies in my stomach already," said Schwartz. "More than last time. I've been looking forward to this for a long time. I feel lucky and fortunate to get a second opportunity."

Visentin was in goal for Canada's collapse in Buffalo. As the only goaltender of the four invited with previous experience in the tournament, Visentin is the frontrunner for the starting job.

A player of concern for Canada is Saint John Sea Dogs winger Jonathan Huberdeau. The Memorial Cup MVP arrived at Calgary International Airport wearing a walking cast on his right foot.

Huberdeau broke a bone in his foot Nov. 7 and hasn't skated since. He, too, stood out among players at summer camp.

"We want to evaluate him," Hay said. "Not sure if he'll get on the ice the first day, but he'll work with our off-ice people and we'll see where he's at."

Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray was sidelined seven weeks with an ankle injury, but he got a game in Friday with his club team prior to his arrival.

Hockey Canada's policy is invited players must report to selection camp to be considered for the Canadian team. Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins, Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers, Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets will remain in the NHL.

Seguin and Skinner are both in their second years in the NHL and weren't considered real possibilities for Canada. The Oilers declared earlier this month that Nugent-Hopkins, their first overall pick in the draft this year, would be staying with them.

Nugent-Hopkins, Couturier and Johansen are all centres, so Hay will be auditioning for replacements at camp. Mark Scheifele of the Barrie Colts and Niagara's Ryan Strome should have the inside track on two of the four jobs there.

Notes: The NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens have the most prospects at camp with three each ... The Western Hockey League leads all invitees with 16, followed by the OHL with 14, the QMJHL with eight, the NHL with two and another two are from U.S. colleges ... The OHL's Niagara IceDogs have the most players at camp with four.

Brandon Gormley (Photo: Moncton Wildcats)


(Photo: Moncton Wildcats)
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