CALGARY – Devante Smith-Pelly got some advice from Ryan Getzlaf before leaving the Anaheim Ducks to join Canada's national junior hockey team.
"He just told me, being one of the guys that played in the NHL, just go in there and be a leader, but don't go in there thinking you're better than anybody else," Smith-Pelly said. "Those were his words of advice and I'm sure going to listen to them."
Canada got an unexpected boost when the Ducks loaned Smith-Pelly, a forward who has three goals in 26 games for Anaheim, to the Canadian junior team and the Tampa Bay Lightning did the same with forward Brett Connolly.
"You're always surprised to get them back," said Kevin Prendergast, the head scout for the men's national team. "They're two quality young men and they bring different aspects to what we need for our team to be successful. Connolly brings an offensive threat. He's creative, he's got great hockey sense, he's able to finish. Smith-Pelly's going to bring a physical presence for us, which is something we're really going to need."
Before the arrival of the two NHLers much of the attention heading into the selection camp, which runs through Wednesday, focused on who would not be attending. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton), Sean Couturier (Philadelphia), Ryan Johansen (Columbus), Tyler Seguin (Boston), Jeff Skinner (Carolina) and Erik Gudbranson were all eligible to participate, but were not released by their teams.
BETTER NOT BITTER
While some players are reluctant to leave their NHL clubs to play in a junior tournament, both Smith-Pelly and Connolly insist they are happy to be in Calgary.
"Not a lot of guys get a chance to both play in the NHL and world juniors and then get to go back so I can't stop saying how excited I am," said Smith-Pelly, a Toronto native.
"Kind of bitter sweet," admitted Connolly, "but [this is] my second kick of the can here and last year obviously didn't go the way we wanted and I'm excited.
"I talked to [Lightning general manager Steve] Yzerman and he just wants me to develop and he thinks it will be good for me. I think it'll be really good for me too. It's a great tournament and there's lots of good players and we're going to have a good team this year."
Smith-Pelly and Connolly, who has four goals in 28 games for Tampa, believe their NHL experience should benefit Canada.
"I think my game's improved leaps and bounds in the last couple months just being around Teemu Selanne and Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, guys like that, and getting to be around them and practicing with them every day it's hard not to get better," said Smith-Pelly.
"It's been a whirlwind few months," said Connolly. "I got to play with Marty St. Louis, [Steven] Stamkos, Vinny [Lecavalier] and all the veteran guys who have been in the NHL forever. They've been great to me, taking me in and really showing me the ropes and teaching me how to be a professional and I've learned a lot from those guys."
'A SECOND CHANCE'
Smith-Pelly did not make the Canadian team a year ago and has not forgotten that feeling.
"Not making it last year was pretty disappointing and when I did go to summer camp my goal was to try and impress and make sure that, if I was in junior, I had it in the back of their minds that I was one of the best players there," he said.
Connolly was on the team that lost in the gold-medal game to Russia last year in Buffalo. The Prince George, B.C. native is one of just four players at the selection camp who were on last year's squad, which blew a three-goal third-period lead against the Russians. Connolly needed some time to put that loss behind him.
"Quite awhile," he said. "It's something that the guys who were there last year will never forget and for me personally it took a little while to get over it, but this year's a new year and I'm excited to get a second chance."
Red/White Lines from Sunday: