Team Canada is learning to roll with the punches during this year’s unprecedented World Junior selection camp.
Now, even in quarantine at the team hotel in Red Deer, Alta., nothing seems to be coming easily for the 46 players. A virtual poker tournament planned for the weekend was scrapped because of Wi-Fi issues.
"We had to improvise pretty quick on the spot," said 18-year-old Erie Otters defenceman Jamie Drysdale. "We're locked in our rooms, so we have to figure out something to just see each other – even if it is only on Zoom. So, we had a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament. It's actually pretty funny because the Wi-Fi isn't very good so you’re calling people out about whether they’re actually lagging or if they're playing the lag to their advantage to go after their opponents. It's all in good fun and great to see everybody's face and get a good laugh to end a night."
Drysdale won his first match before falling in the second round of the single-elimination tournament.
"We broke into four groups because there's a decent amount of us and two players came out of each," Drysdale explained. "There's a quarter-finals, semifinals and finals still to happen."
During a Zoom interview with TSN this week Drysdale, who was picked by Anaheim sixth overall in October’s National Hockey League draft, outlined the motivational tactics Team Canada is employing to stay positive in isolation.
The Toronto native, one of six returning players at the camp, also reviewed the first week of on-ice activities and offered insight on what it's like to partner with personable Vancouver Giants defenceman Bowen Byram.
The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.
During this quarantine period a couple of players are assigned each day to send out a motivational quote or message. What's it like starting your day like that?
"You wake up and you check your phone and that's the first thing you see is just a motivational video or quote. One the best ones was Bo [Byram] who put out a little clip from the Lone Survivor [movie] and just an inspirational thing about how we're all in this together and just to push through and get around this and come out on top in the end."
Do you have a favourite motto or mantra?
"I haven't done it yet. I do have something ready, though. It's a video I found that's from [retired Navy SEAL officer] Jocko Willink. It's him talking about how when things are bad you have to think of everything in the positive way. So, if we're stuck in a not-so-good situation, you know, just there's a quote saying, 'Good! Figure out what you can do to make the best out of it.'"
You guys have created committees to deal with the quarantine issues. Which one are you on?
"I'm on the food committee. We figure out meals that the boys like better than others and we get to put together a few meals that maybe we're craving or miss. It's all within a guideline and all healthy foods. One thing that's really good about what we're doing is it's not just the staff picking everything. They're letting the players have a say, which I think is important and we're grateful for that. I'm not going to lie, I'm a bit of a picky eater, so I'm happy to be a part of this committee."
Can you give us a sneak peek at what's on the menu?
"Wait, when's this coming out? I don’t want to give it away because it's a secret for the boys!"
How did you feel on the ice in the first week of the camp?
"I felt awesome and I felt not so awesome at the same time. It's absolutely amazing to get back on the ice in the high-intensity practices with all the guys, but I'd be lying if I said that first day [was easy]. A couple intense ice sessions and a workout, so it's definitely tiring. But at the same time, it’s awesome to have that feeling back. That's what we love about the game and it was really great to get back on the ice."
When we spoke in July you mentioned putting on 10 to 12 pounds during the off-season. How has that translated on the ice?
"I feel good on the ice. I feel real confident and comfortable with where I'm at. It's about always looking on the bright side of things, so it was good we had this extra time to maybe put on some extra weight or put on some more muscle. I'm feeling good and feeling like I can use that to my advantage."
You partnered with Byram in the scrimmages. What was the chemistry like?
"He's an awesome player and being paired with him was definitely fun. As you saw at the end of the second game, he just kind of flipped the switch and was a stud out there, making plays and making things happen. It was really cool to play with him [for the] first time."
When he flips the switch, what are you thinking?
"When you see someone is just taking over the game and feeling it you just got to, one, roll with it and, two, do your best to work with it ... on the blueline, I think you can figure out interchangeable plays where you run switches on the point. We're both pretty mobile players so we can use that to our advantage. He's pretty good at it and able to find people where not a lot of people can."
Do you have to change the way you play when you slot in beside someone like him?
"I wouldn't say change. When you partner with someone it's very important to build chemistry and really important to know what they're going to do so you can kind of read off them. Obviously, we're both guys who like to jump in the play every now and then, so it's just picking and choosing. I think you can read off each other and I think there's plenty of time to do it. It's not like playing together will hold either of us back. I think we'll both excel if that does happen."
Byram had a great first week, but did anyone else stand out to you in the scrimmages?
"One guy who stood out to me was Krebsie [Winnipeg Ice centre Peyton Krebs]. He looked like he was in game shape. He was making heads-up plays, making a lot of good passes and not just giving the puck away. He was one guy. And then, obviously, Dacher [Kirby Dach]. That's self- explanatory and he really turned it on in the second game and is just an impressive player overall."
Being a Toronto kid, I know you're a big admirer of Morgan Rielly. Over the weekend, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas revealed that Rielly offered to give up his spot on the top power-play unit in order to get a struggling Tyson Barrie on track last season. What goes through your mind when you hear that?
"That's awesome ... when you see a guy like that, a leader on the team, take initiative by himself, in this case, demote himself for the better of the team, that shows a lot and that's the mentality you have to have in order to be successful. You, alone, aren't going to get the job done. It's going to take the whole team and you got to do what you got to do to make sure everyone's going and everyone's confident in themselves and confident in their play. I think it's really important that you can trust your teammates and your teammates can trust you."
At Hockey Canada's summer virtual camp you led a group project on sacrifice and what it takes to win gold. What examples of sacrifice stand out from last year's World Juniors?
"There's a lot. First and foremost you have straight up blocking shots. At our summer virtual camp there were videos of what last year's team did just in the finals alone just with blocked shots and I'm not sure of the exact number, but there was just clip after clip. That's one really important thing you have to do. There's a lot of elite snipers in this tournament so you have to do your best to take away those opportunities even if that does mean using your body. Also, last year a lot of people were sick later in the tournament and I think that one thing is kind of knowing your body. Bo sat out the semifinal and I don't know if it was his choice or not, but he was able to come back in the finals. He wasn't feeling great even in the finals and he did what he had to do for the team ... There were a lot of sacrifices in the tournament mentally and physically and doing what you have to do to help the team win."
Last year you were the young guy, draft-eligible kid, seventh defenceman, do you feel different this year?
"Being part of the team last year definitely helps in the confidence aspect of things. It was the best experience of my life last year so I'm looking to do everything I can to continue on this year and hopefully play a bigger role."