CALGARY – The looming cuts. The strong goaltending. The winning goal by Mark Stone. All were overshadowed by a hit that had Canada's world junior selection camp buzzing.
Forward Quinton Howden was hammered along the boards by Brett Connolly midway through the second period of Monday night's intra-squad game. Howden, a Florida Panthers prospect who plays for Moose Jaw in the WHL, struggled to get off the ice after absorbing the blow. He left for the dressing room immediately and did not return.
Howden has an upper-body injury and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday.
"It's a tough play," a stone-faced Connolly said after the game. "I'm just trying to finish my check and he's kind of in a vulnerable position. I mean, if I was to go back maybe I would have held up a little bit, but I'm just trying to be intense and finish my checks and obviously I feel bad now. Hopefully he's not hurt too bad, but definitely could have held up a little bit."
Connolly, loaned to the junior program by the Tampa Bay Lightning, was assessed a two-minute boarding penalty for the hit, which elicited a gasp from the crowd of about 1,700. Howden and Connolly are two of the four returning players at the camp and both are considered safe bets to be on the final 22-man roster.
TOUGH TO SWALLOW
"It's tough to swallow," said Connolly. "Obviously I hope he's OK. I haven't talked to him yet. I'll apologize, but again I'm just trying to finish my check and play intense. It's a tough play."
Team Canada officials were quick to defend Connolly while noting they had asked the winger to be more aggressive after a lacklustre showing in Sunday's intra-squad game.
"I thought Connolly was finishing his check, might have been a little bit late, but we asked him to play a little more physical tonight and he did that," said head coach Don Hay, who expects to release seven or eight players on Tuesday morning.
"You know what? It's hockey," said Kevin Prendergast, the national team's head scout. "Like anybody else Brett is trying to make the hockey club, he's trying to make an impression. He's probably the one guy that feels bad about it more than anything else. I think Quinton's going to be OK so, you know what? Stuff happens in hockey. He didn't hit him in the head, he hit him in the chest and that's it."
'I DON'T KNOW WHAT CONNOLLY WAS THINKING'
But not everybody was as forgiving as Hay and Prendergast.
"It was a late hit," said forward Tanner Pearson, who is Howden's roommate. "The whistle went. I don't know what Connolly was thinking. It was a bad hit."
"Quinton had the puck in his skates," said defenceman Cody Ceci, "and they blew the whistle just before hit him so it was a little dirty play."
NO GUARANTEED SPOTS
Monday morning Hay suggested that Connolly needed to earn a spot on the team despite his status as a returning player and someone who had been loaned to the team by an NHL club. The message clearly got through.
"There's no guaranteed spots on this team," said Connolly. "For me, I just wanted to come in and be intense and I wanted to show that I cared and wanted to finish every check and play hard, play Canadian style of hockey. I felt I did that, so, again about the hit, it's unfortunate, but it's part of the game."