VANCOUVER — When Steve Staios helped pick Team Canada’s roster for the World Junior Championship, he said he tried to throw out any and all biases.
As GM of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, Staios knew his own player Mackenzie Entwistle was on the bubble.
But after sizing up all the prospects, Staios kept coming back to Entwistle. Through summer camp, the Canada-Russia series, and this month’s selection camp, Staios said there was “just something about him” that felt right.
“He just continued to impress us and found a role on the team,” Staios said.
It wasn’t a glamorous role for the Bulldogs’ captain, the 13th forward job, but for Entwistle it meant a spot on the team. A skate in the door.
There he was on Thursday night, on the ice in the most crucial moment for Team Canada, taking a faceoff to the right of Ian Scott on the penalty kill with five seconds remaining and Canada clinging to a one-goal lead. That was after he scored the go-ahead goal in the second period that slowed Switzerland’s moment.
Not bad for the only forward without a line.
“I didn’t really look at that too much,” Entwistle said. “The biggest thing was I’m playing for my country and playing for the logo on my chest.”
Entwistle may have started as Team Canada’s 13th forward, but he emerged as, well, their Swiss Army Knife in a knee-knocking 3-2 win over Team Switzerland in Game 2 in Vancouver. The victory kept Canada perfect (23-0-0) all-time against Switzerland and clinched a spot in the quarterfinal with two more games to play in the preliminary round.
Team Canada knew it wouldn’t be as easy as their 14-0 romp over Denmark on Boxing Day, but Switzerland pushed Canada to the limit.
“It was tighter than we expected or wanted it to be but I thought we stuck with it,” Entwistle said.
“We knew we were going to get some pushback that we didn’t feel in the first game and I think it was good for us,” Staios said. “It was part of the process that we need to get to where we want to go in this tournament.”
Last year, 13th forward Tyler Steenbergen delivered Canada’s golden goal in Buffalo after serving as the seldom-used forward, the only one who hadn’t scored a goal until the final game.
Entwistle, who was also picked by the Arizona Coyotes two rounds apart from Steenbergen in the same 2017 draft class, has already made his presence felt in two games. He’s scored in both games.
That’s no surprise to Staios, who watched Entwistle step up and deliver for Hamilton in the biggest moments, no matter the role. He was arguably the Bulldogs’ best player in their run to the Memorial Cup last year with 10 goals and 17 points in 21 playoff games.
“He gets his offence the hard way. I hate to downgrade his skill level, because there is skill there. He scored a big goal for us,” Staios said. “That’s sort of icing on the cake for all of the other things that he can bring for our group. He’s got a lot of the intangibles that are important to our group.”
Entwistle isn’t flashy. He isn’t Canada’s fastest skater, or the most skilled. He is Canada’s only forward not drafted in the first or second round – he was a third-round pick. The Coyotes traded Entwistle to the Chicago Blackhawks in a deal for Marian Hossa’s contract last summer. (Tim Bernhardt, Arizona’s director of scouting who drafted both Entwistle and Steenbergen, since parted ways with the organization.)
“It just seems that he always finds a way to get on the scoreboard,” Team Canada coach Tim Hunter said.
Entwistle’s path to Vancouver is uniquely Canadian. His humble roots made him the perfect pick to be the 13th forward. The Georgetown, Ont., native is the son of two retired Toronto Police Service officers. His parents, Dave and Margaret, are self-described “not hockey people.” They were born abroad in England and Poland and said they had “no clue” that their son had a legitimate potential hockey career until the season he was drafted.
Entwistle’s parents worked opposite shifts to make sure he could make it to his hockey games.
“He’s just a leader. A humble kid. High character,” Staios said. “Players gravitate to him. He’s got a great personality.”
Entwistle said watching Steenbergen, who he became buddies with at Coyotes development camp, step up for Team Canada served as an important reminder.
Now, it’s a good bet that Entwistle has already seen the last of his role as the 13th forward. Hunter said he’ll remain patient with younger forwards Alexis Lafreniere and Joey Veleno, but that Entwistle earned the moments he enjoyed on Thursday night.
“It doesn’t really matter where you play in the lineup,” Entwistle said. “The Steenbergen goal, Canadians remember that one pretty well. That’s just a little friendly reminder to stick with it and not look too much into that.”
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli