By Terry Koshan – Toronto Sun
The whispers are that the No. 1 job in Canada’s net is Carter Hart’s to lose.
At the selection camp this week at the Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau, Hart is leaving nothing to chance.
A Philadelphia Flyers prospect, Hart turned aside all 10 shots he saw in Canada’s 5-3 victory against the U Sports all-stars on Tuesday. Hart didn’t have an overly busy night before he was relieved by Michael McNiven halfway through the second period, but was sharp and gave Canadian fans a glimpse of what they can expect during the 2017 world junior championship.
“I’m competing for a spot just like everyone else and taking things in stride,” Hart said. “You just have to stay dialled in the whole time and just be totally engaged for a full 60 minutes, or tonight, 30 minutes. You have to make sure you catch yourself when you drift off.”
McNiven had a rough go initially, allowing three goals in a span of under three minutes not long after he entered the game. He settled down and his team was smarter in front of him through the third period.
McNiven will play in the U Sports net on Tuesday when the teams meet in the afternoon, while Connor Ingram, who played for U Sports on Monday, will split time with Hart in Canada’s net. It’s an unconventional way of doing things, but Hockey Canada wants the best opportunity to evaluate the goalies. The battle is more between McNiven and Ingram for the backup role.
Encouraging for Canada in the victory is that some players expected to score in the tournament got off to a fine start.
Sam Steel scored a pair of pretty goals, while Dylan Strome, Taylor Raddysh and Mitchell Stephens also scored.
Steel was good on a line with Mathew Barzal and Julien Gauthier, while Strome, Raddysh and Dillon Dube had some strong moments.
“It’s too early to talk about chemistry,” head coach Dominique Ducharme said. “We’re looking more individually at what guys can do.”
Each of the Canadians who did not play on Monday, a group that included defencemen Noah Juulsen and Jake Bean and forwards Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Tyson Jost and Nicolas Roy, will play in the game against U Sports on Tuesday afternoon. Forward Blake Speers, who has been recovering from a wrist injury, also is expected to be in the lineup … Ducharme said it’s “possible” the initial cuts will be made following Tuesday’s game. Canada must release one goalie, three defencemen and five forwards … Long gone are the days Canada could seemingly waltz into the world junior and beat opponents without working up much of a sweat. On top of that, the Canadians have had trouble winning close games in recent years, one reason why there has been just one gold for the nation since 2009. “Back in the day it seemed like Canada always won those games, those tight games,” Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski said. “The other countries are so much better now. There are more resources being put into junior hockey. They don’t want to be embarrassed at the world junior in front of 20,000 fans. The more adversity you can go through in little spots here at camp is going to help them understand you have to really (bear down) in tight games.”
FROM THE HASH MARKS
Of the 31 players in Canada’s camp, 18 were born in 1997, so this marks their final opportunity to not only participate in the world junior but win the gold medal. Among them is Barzal, one of five players who was on the team last winter. “It’s almost like desperation, the last chance at world-junior gold,” Barzal said. “Besides the Stanley Cup, I would say this is right behind it (in terms of importance for a player). As soon as I got sent back by the (New York) Islanders (in November), the first thing I had on my mind was coming to Montreal and Toronto and winning a gold medal.” Barzal, the 16th pick overall by the Isles in 2015, played in two games for New York before he was returned to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. In 13 games with Seattle before heading to selection camp, Barzal, a centre, had two goals and 17 assists … Memo to the Islanders: Make forward Anthony Beauvillier available to Canada for the tournament. There’s no sense in keeping Beauvillier out of the lineup — he has played in one game since Nov. 30 — and out of Canada’s grasp. Ditto for the Arizona Coyotes and forward Lawson Crouse, who has one goal and one assist in 24 games, averaging 11 minutes 11 seconds of ice time. With Canada, Crouse would have a central role and would be a shoo-in to be named captain (something that likely would be agreed upon as a condition for Crouse to be loaned). Rare is the player who is loaned to Canada for the world junior by an NHL club and is worse off for the experience, no matter where Canada finishes … Raddysh is one of six Tampa Bay Lightning prospects trying out for Canada. “It’s pretty cool,” Raddysh said. “It makes things a little easier with all of the familiar faces.”