CALGARY – Looking to finally crack Team Canada on his third try, Ryan Murphy will be waiting out the final hours until the 2013 roster is announced, watching movies and television in a lonely hotel room.
"It's not going to be fun," Murphy grinned, following the Canadians' final exhibition match on Thursday afternoon, a 2-0 win over a CIS squad.
Murphy is one of 31 players vying for an opportunity to join Team Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia. Nine jobs appeared to be sewn up already with Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Hueberdeau, Ryan Strome, Scott Harrington, Xavier Ouellet, Dougie Hamilton, Boone Jenner and Morgan Rielly seemingly in the clear after sitting on the last day of evaluation. That would leave 14 spots up for grabs – eight forwards, three defencemen and three goaltenders.
Goaltending remains the most difficult decision for head coach Steve Spott and the Canadian brass to make with all four goaltenders providing at the very least, a solid showing this week; Jake Patterson stopped all 33 shots he faced, Laurent Brossoit stopped 48 of 50, Jordan Binnington stopped 31 of 34 while presumed leader of the pack, Malcolm Subban blocked 38 of 43. One of the four won't make the cut.
"That's going to be a real challenge for us," Spott said. "But as I said to [goaltending coach] Ron Tugnutt, we have to stay true to our evaluation through the whole year, not just for the last 48 hours. I think that's very important that when you look at these teams you can be fooled over a certain amount of time, but I tell you what, all four of these guys that we saw this week were fantastic. We're going to have a tough decision to make."
17-year-old Halifax teammates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin turned in strong performances on the final day of evaluation, as did roster hopefuls Ty Rattie and J.C. Lipon.
Spott noted late Thursday afternoon that he was satisfied with the "top-end" players up front and on defence, specifying the depth positions as those that they required some choice. The Kitchener Rangers bench boss also labeled speed as one prominent element in his final decision-making process, a factor that may bode well for MacKinnon, the potential number one overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. "I think over the three days I got better every day, more comfortable every day," MacKinnon said. "I think with time, I could be a good asset with this team."
Disappointment was evident on Wednesday when the assembled Canadians lost 4-1 to the University of Alberta in a game lacking the highest degrees of determination. That issue was eradicated with final cuts looming.
"A lot of the guys this morning, there was a lot of food left on the breakfast plates," Spott said. "I think there was a lot of nerves and that's to be expected I think obviously knowing that this was the last opportunity for them to have an evaluation. I thought they played hard and now they're going to make our decisions very difficult."