By Terry Koshan – Toronto Sun
No stars, no problem.
That’s the attitude Canada will take into the 2017 world junior championship, and though it might make some outsiders uneasy about Canada’s chances to win gold, it’s being embraced in the dressing room.
“The one thing I do like is there is no defined superstar on this team,” said forward Mitchell Stephens, one of five returning players from the club that was sixth in Helsinki last winter.
“It helps us bond as one. You’re not looking over at someone thinking, ‘Is he going to score on this shift?’
“We have four lines that can score, we have four lines that can play a blue-collar game. It’s exciting for everyone.”
The selection camp for the team came to an official end late on Wednesday night when goalie Michael McNiven, defencemen Guillaume Brisebois and Samuel Girard and forwards Sam Steel and Zach Senyshyn were the last cuts.
On Thursday, the 22 players on the final roster gathered at the Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau one last time for interviews before heading north to Mont-Tremblant, where the club will spend the weekend practising and taking part in bonding exercises.
Truth is, this team played with a sense of urgency during camp, setting in place the foundation to not only try to erase the disaster that unfolded last year, but also to set about winning what would be the country’s second gold medal at the under-20 level since 2009.
A relentless, swarming approach allowed Canada to crush the Czech Republic in an exhibition game on Wednesday night by a score of 8-0. Certainly, the competition only will increase once the tournament starts on Dec. 26 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and the Russians are the first opponent.
With three exhibition games to come next week, there’s already evidence on and off the ice this team will be prepared.
“The refreshing part is we have not had the chance to do a lot of teaching here and, yet, there is already the buy-in to the style we want to play,” Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski said.
“To me, that says the message (from coach Dominique Ducharme and his staff) is getting through, the players are believing.”
There is no question that it has to be that way. Any player straying off on his own path runs the risk of throwing his team’s possible success into the garbage. Simply put, there is not enough time for a team to find itself when the tournament gets under way. By then, it should be in a rhythm.
Carter Hart starts the next phase as the starting goalie, but staff expects Connor Ingram to give Hart a challenge for that job.
The defence corps is led by Ottawa Senators 2015 first-rounder Thomas Chabot and Montreal Canadiens prospect Noah Juulsen, who has the ability to step into a shutdown role.
Dylan Strome, Mathew Barzal and Pierre-Luc Dubois should be offensive catalysts, but again, this is not a group that will have a large separation among the players.
Seven defencemen and 13 forwards will be tasked with playing a similar brand of hockey.
“It’s going to be by committee, the whole thing,” Hockey Canada vice-president of hockey operations Scott Salmond said. “We’re going to have to score by committee, defend by committee.
“I think we’re part of a group of teams that have a chance (to win gold). When you play international hockey, it comes down to one game on one day. It’s why it’s about the daily process.”
The players are fine with following that through.
“Good teams win with depth,” Stephens said. “I can say for myself and for the other 21 guys in that room, we’re going to go to war for each other.”