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Masters: Ten takeaways from Canada's junior summer camp

Mark Masters, TSN.ca

8/12/2013 4:27:34 PM

Hockey Canada wrapped up its summer development camp on Saturday with a 5-1 loss against the United States in Lake Placid, New York. Over the previous eight days, 38 Canadian players got a chance to meet with head coach Brent Sutter and his staff as well as the new management team and take part in three exhibition games as well as an intra-squad scrimmage and four full practices. The following is a recap of the top storylines: 

1. Sutter sets the tone

Shortly after arriving at the camp Mathew Dumba, who plays for Sutter in Red Deer, offered up a simple piece of advice for his campmates.

"Get a haircut and shave," the Minnesota Wild's first round pick in 2012 (seventh overall) said. "I just shaved this morning. I kind of had a mustache and goatee going and I knew Brent wasn't going to let that fly."

And, sure enough, a couple of players got their ears lowered shortly after arriving at the camp in order to comply with their coach's desired look. So why does something like hygiene matter when it comes to high-level hockey?

"To people on the outside it may seen like such a meaningless thing, but inside of a group it's big," explained Sutter. "It might be a bunch of little things, but they create a big thing.

"Discipline isn't just important on the ice, it's important off the ice. It starts off the ice. And it's not just about penalties, it's about our overall game and you have to create that culture off the ice. People can say whatever they want, whether it's old school or whatever, but I don't believe it's old school. I believe it's about principles and values. 

"There are principles and values that must be implemented. We're not talking about a situation here where this is a group of players we'll have for a few years. We're talking about a situation where you have to quickly bond into a team. There has to be an identity and culture on your team forming very quickly and there's certain things that have to be in place before you ever step on the ice and that's something I stand by."

That message was heard loud and clear by the players.

"He's a little intimidating, I'm not going to lie, especially when he addressed us [the first night of the camp]," said Ottawa Senators first-round pick Curtis Lazar. "We left the meeting a little wide-eyed."

One other small thing Sutter did to try and build team unity was instruct the equipment staff to exclude last names on the game jerseys. Instead each jersey nameplate simply had, 'CANADA.' That stood out at the event as the Americans and Finns had last names on their jerseys while the Swedes had the name of a sponsor.

"We're Canada's team," Sutter said when asked about the jerseys. "That's what we are and we're all one."

2. Max Domi channels his inner Tie

Late in the third period of Canada's 7-3 win over Sweden on Thursday, Tobias Tornkvist and 16-year-old Connor McDavid got tangled up behind the play. The Swede ended up on top of Canada's youngest player, which led to hollering from the Canadian bench for someone else on the ice to get involved.

Max Domi heard the shouts and quickly skated to the aid of his teammate. He had to be separated from Tornkvist by the linesmen and ended up with a double-minor and a 10-minute misconduct.

"He did the right thing for a teammate," said Sutter. "That's what you're supposed to do in this game: stick together as a team. At that point in game, you're up four, you don't mind a player doing that for you."

"We're all expected to stand up for each other," said Domi, Phoenix's first round pick (12th overall) last June, "and when one guy gets in trouble there are four guys right behind him. We're a team and we stick up for each other."

As for McDavid? He had a huge grin on his face when asked about Domi's assistance.

"It was awesome," he said.

3. Lake Placid sure beats intra-squad games 

Hockey Canada's decision to sign-up for the American-organized Lake Placid event instead of holding its own entirely separate camp was a change for the organization. Yes, last year the Canadian junior hopefuls played a four-game series against Russia in the summer with two games in Yaroslavl and two games in Halifax, but that was a special event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Summit Series. Usually Canada has a camp featuring intra-squad games. Such games don't allow for team-bonding events like what happened with Domi and McDavid.

Due to having to play games against other teams, Hockey Canada did not invite as many players to the camp this time around allowing the management team to evaluate only what Sutter called "the cream of the crop."

Thirty-seven players took part in the first practice and the controlled scrimmage in Montreal, but the four returning players – Morgan Rielly, Griffin Reinhart, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin – did not travel south. The quartet are basically assured spots on the team in December if they are not in the NHL and as a result it's not as important that they be evaluated.

The other 33 players all took part in at least one game in Lake Placid. Capitals prospect Tom Wilson, who made his NHL debut in the playoffs last spring, as well as Flyers hopeful Scott Laughton and Habs prospect Charles Hudon all took part in only one game. That is likely a sign the management team is quite content with what they already know about them.

The games against Finland, Sweden and the host Americans allowed the Canadian players to measure themselves against different opposition and get a taste of what to expect from those countries in Malmo, Sweden this winter.

Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson says it's likely a similar format will be adopted for future camps and it's possible Canada may look to host a summer exhibition series in the future.
 
4. McDavid had a good camp even if he doesn't think so

"It didn't go well today obviously," McDavid said following Saturday's loss to the United States. "Still a lot of work to be done to make this team."

After his first game of the camp against Sweden on Thursday, McDavid gave himself a C+. Against the U.S.?

"A lot worse. I was awful," he said with his eyes staring downward. 

The Erie Otters wunderkind, the early favourite to go first overall in the 2015 NHL draft, was steamrolled by New Jersey Devils prospect Steven Santini late in the third period. It was the type of hit McDavid is usually able to avoid thanks to his incredible hockey sense and agility. When asked what he'll remember most about the camp McDavid references that body blow.

"Just getting hit like that at the end of the game. You know, he got me good and it's just going to be a reminder that at this level there are no easy plays out there and you just got to battle through.

"Growing up you always watch the world juniors and obviously the pace is fast and it's hard hitting and it's good to get experience playing at this level."

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Talents like McDavid don't achieve the success they do without setting sometimes impossibly high standards.

And we can't forget that McDavid, for all the hype, is attempting to do something extremely difficult: crack Canada's world junior roster as a 16-year-old. It has only been done by five players: Wayne Gretzky (1978), Eric Lindros (1989), Jason Spezza (2000), Jay Bouwmeester (2000) and Sidney Crosby (2004).

Despite his sour state after Saturday's game the truth is McDavid had a respectable camp. He was effective against the Swedes, scoring once and creating plenty of chances. He also shone in the controlled scrimmage held in Montreal before the team headed south. He has put himself firmly in the mix for a roster spot.

5. Discipline remains a concern

It seems to be a constant theme: how will Canada's rough-and-tumble players deal with the tighter officiating that usually comes in international play? Last year, that storyline dominated much of the tournament starting even before Canada landed in Ufa, Russia. Boone Jenner was handed a three-game ban for a hit (called a charging major) on Sweden's Jesper Pettersson during the final pre-tournament game. Russian captain Nail Yakupov added fuel to the fire by suggesting Team Canada was "dirty."

Then at the tournament JC Lipon was handed a suspension for a high hit and Anthony Camara was ejected from a game for what was deemed an illegal hit. Reinhart was slapped with a four-game suspension for what was ruled a deliberate high stick to the head of American Vince Trocheck in the semi-finals. Reinhart has argued the high-stick was accidental although his appeal was denied. If the New York Islanders prospect is on the team this year then he will need to sit out the first three games.

So how did the boys in red and white fare in Lake Placid? Well, 17 Canadian players combined to take 26 penalties and two players (Domi and Oilers first-round pick Darnell Nurse) were given misconducts.

Sutter did not seem impressed by the officiating at the event although he refused to come out and say anything specific. The coach did admit that some of the penalties during Saturday's game were the result of a loss of focus.

Nurse certainly seemed to lose focus during Thursday's game against Sweden. In the second period he was called for his second penalty of the game and then received an extra 10-minute misconduct for voicing his displeasure with the officials.

"I may have just lost it a bit tonight," Nurse admitted after the game. "I got to get my stick under control, but that's what happens when you get fired up. But it's good to get it out of way now. I don't think I have more of those left in me."

What did Nurse actually say to the officials?
 
"Nothing very nice ... Probably deserved [the misconduct]."

6. Bitter-sweet camp for MacKinnon

The first overall pick in June's draft is off to Los Angeles this week to prep for the season alongside trainer Andy O'Brien. It seems likely that the Avalanche's newest weapon will be in the NHL this year and not available to the Canadian team. If that is indeed the case, MacKinnon admits the lack of a world junior medal on his resume will be a source of regret. 

"It will be. I think it wouldn't have been as bad if we didn't come fourth last year. Coming here gets you excited to play in the world juniors again especially with Brent [Sutter]. He's an emotional guy, inspirational guy and him talking about the world juniors gets me fired up.

"I could easily be back here. Anything can happen, but if I don't it will definitely be tough not medalling."

But being in the NHL is a pretty good consolation prize. MacKinnon has a simple plan for his final few weeks of preparation before his first professional camp.

"For me, I want to keep my speed as much as I can," he said. "I don't want to get too big for my own body. My game is quickness and speed. I want to build some strength and maybe put on some weight."

7. Charles Hudon aching for another chance

On the day the camp opened Hudon tweeted, "The moment I've been waiting for eight months has finally arrived."

Hudon, picked by Montreal in the fifth round (122nd overall) in 2012, thought he had realized his goal of making the world junior team last year. He was named to the squad and travelled overseas to Finland for the pre-tournament games. But then a back injury (disk-related) forced him off the team.

"It's always on my mind," Hudon said. "I always wear the Team Canada hat just to know that I need to be coming back for next year for next world juniors. That's my goal, that's my objective.

"I just want to try and take care of my back. I feel really good. I'm not 100 per cent, but I'm close to that."

8. Goaltending concerns overblown

That's the assessment of both management team member Sean Burke and new goalie consultant Fred Brathwaite, who has replaced Ron Tugnutt.

"I don't see there being any issue with our goaltending," said Burke, who has represented Canada at the World Juniors and Olympics. "Any of the kids who are here are capable of winning that tournament."

Fresh off a Memorial Cup championship, Halifax's Zach Fucale, a Habs prospect and the top goalie selected at June's draft (36th overall), seems to have the pole position in the race to be Canada's starter on Boxing Day and did nothing to change that perception in stopping 38 of 41 shots in a win over Sweden.

Fucale's top challenger is Jake Paterson, who is a year older and was the third goalie on last year's team although the Saginaw Spirit keeper did not get into a game. The same thing happened at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2011 as Paterson made Team Ontario, but did not play. He calls that "frustrating" and said it will motivate him to finally take the next step this time around.

Paterson wasn't thrilled with his performance against the United States on Saturday as he allowed five goals on 25 shots. But three of the goals came with Canada shorthanded with two coming with Canada down two men. And, in general, Team Canada was pretty lacklustre in front of Paterson.    

Tri-City's Eric Comrie was the third goalie at the camp and is a bit of a wild card, because he missed the second half of last season with a hip injury. But after allowing a goal on the first shot he faced against Finland on Wednesday the brother of former NHLer Mike Comrie settled down and impressed the Canadian staff by stopping 37 of 40 shots overall in the victory.

Goaltending has been a hot-button topic – it always seems to be – around the team. A Canadian goalie hasn't led the world junior tournament in save percentage since Steve Mason in 2008. And Canada has never won a tournament hosted in Europe without having the tournament's top netminder. Those storylines will be front and centre this winter. With that in mind Brathwaite has a simple piece of advice for his charges.

"Just try and stay away from the media," said Brathwaite. "We've been talking a lot about it, but I think the pressure's actually coming from the media. The goaltending's been fine."

9. Third time's the charm for Dumba?

Twice Dumba has come to the world junior selection camp with high hopes and twice he has left disappointed. Now, in his final kick at the can, he has an ally behind the bench in Sutter.

Last year, defenceman Ryan Murphy, who had also been cut twice, finally got over the hump thanks in part to a vote of confidence from Steve Spott, his head coach in Kitchener and the man who led the junior team into the 2013 event. Now history may be repeating.

"I do know the systems," said Dumba. "I know what Brent's looking for, what he likes. For the four years I've been in junior hockey he's been the owner of the Red Deer Rebels and stepping in this year as our head coach I learned a lot from him."

Sutter made an impression on Dumba as soon as he took over behind the bench last November replacing Jesse Wallin.

"When he first took over we had a meeting about how he's going to be really hard on me, he's going to be hard on me and really hold me accountable for everything that I do and if I did anything well he wouldn't sugarcoat it or anything."

"Sometimes players at top-end levels get away with some things that they probably should not, and it does not help their development," said Sutter. "I told him right from the get-go, 'This is how I coach, you will be treated like everyone else in the room and when things are going to be told to you, it is going to be done.'"

Sutter helped Dumba become a better two-way player.

"I learned a lot from him on the defensive side of the game and he held me accountable all the time and that was awesome for me," Dumba said. "I just need that reliability on the ice so I'm not a liability and he can trust me in all areas of the game."

10. Hunter Shinkaruk is making a list

Shinkaruk doesn't have to look far for inspiration. The Medicine Hat Tigers forward was cut at last year's Canadian selection camp and is eager to erase that bitter memory.

"It will always be used as motivation, definitely at this camp, but also down the road when I play those players, who did make that team and if I play against the coaches, who cut me. It's something that will always motivate me," he said.

"It was tough. I felt like I had a good camp [last December]. I felt like I did everything I could have to make that team.

"At the end of the day it's something that made me stronger mentally and allowed me to mature as a kid."

The Vancouver Canucks prospect actually inked his first professional contract during the camp. And while he's thrilled that Vancouver scooped him up at the No. 24 pick he isn't about to forget that his hometown team, the Calgary Flames, passed on him at No. 22 by picking campmate Emile Poirier instead.

"Draft day, I'm not going to lie, it was a little nerve-wracking," Shinkaruk said. "My hometown team passed on me and it's going to be something that, when I play the Flames down the road, that I'll definitely have in mind."