The contingent of Canadian players that will be competing for roster spots for the World Junior team ascended on Calgary this past weekend. With gold-medal aspirations as usual, the selection process always receives an incredible amount of attention – and that’s no different this year.
Unfortunately, as has been the case for much of the last two years, there were some COVID-19 related issues before camp even really began. Forward Kent Johnson from the University of Michigan was delayed and is expected to join the team next week in Banff for the training camp. Mason McTavish had an inconclusive test and didn’t join the team for their first on-ice session, but was a lock to make the team from the start.
Jack Thompson, one of two right-shot defenders invited to camp, didn’t make the team due to the ongoing COVID situation with his club team, the Sudbury Wolves. Thompson’s loss means that they lose one of their most dynamic offensive presences from the back end. This highlights the glaring omission of Brandt Clarke as well. With Clarke and Thompson missing for Team Canada, they will be missing arguably the two best offensive players from the blueline eligible for the Canadian squad.
Canada Shuts Out USports in Evaluation Game 1
The first of two evaluation games against the Canadian University All-Stars went about as well as the Canadian U-20 squad could have hoped. Sebastian Cossa was in net for the full game and shut the door on every attempt that the USports squad had while 16-year-old Connor Bedard had the exact game he needed to attempt to force his way onto the roster.
With Cossa getting the full game, indications are that the Detroit Red Wings prospect has the leg up as the starter while Dylan Garand and Brett Brochu split the net while playing for the USports group. Garand made 29 saves on 30 shots while Brochu stopped 17 of 19 in the latter half of the game. All three goalies looked good but it was Cossa’s 29-save shutout with multiple ten bell saves that stole the show in the crease.
Despite the nod in net for the Canadian U20 side, Cossa wasn’t taking anything for granted. Understanding that he has to earn every rep, the Oil Kings netminder is ready for the challenge.
“I think at the end of the day, that’s what I want to be (starting netminder),” Cossa said. “But there’s a lot of time and process that goes into it from this day to that day on the 26th. I think that I’m a very confident guy and I’m calm under pressure. At the end of the day, I love the pressure, to say the least.”
With the knowledge that he would have to be among the best players at camp to even have a shot at making the squad, Bedard was ready to perform. Playing on a line with Joshua Roy and Dylan Guenther, the trio was Canada’s most dangerous line for much of the night. Bedard, the youngest player in the camp started the show early by opening the scoring less than two minutes into the game on a nice pass by Guenther up ice. Bedard came down the wing and fired a shot just over Garand’s shoulder putting the coaching staff on notice that he was ready to play.
Joshua Roy scored the second goal of the night in what was a good game for the Montreal prospect. Roy was cutting across the slot when he deflected an Olen Zellweger shot from the point that beat Brochu about five minutes after he came into the game. Bedard drew the secondary assist for his second point of the night.
Zellweger was a standout all over the ice, from start to finish. His poise with the puck and ability to create from the backend will be an asset for the Canada World Junior squad. He was consistently dangerous with the puck on his stick and his play away from the puck was intelligent and decisive.
Coach Dave Cameron was impressed with the play of arguably his most dynamic blueliner but wants to see him continue that throughout the rest of camp.
“What we say is the next play is the right play,” Cameron said. “I mean, you’re not going to be dangerous every time you have the puck when we get into this tournament. Zellweger’s real good, real quick, and has good decision making.”
With about ten minutes to play, Bedard and Roy found themselves on the scoresheet again. With Roy pressuring the USports defenders on the forecheck, he found the loose puck and spotted the exceptional 16-year-old in the slot for a slick shot to beat Brochu top shelf.
After the game, coach Cameron was pleased with the overall effort from his squad. He noted that the team was playing smart hockey for the most part but did note that they were playing a bit run-and-gun towards the end of the game. Understanding that they need to tighten up before the December 26th tournament-opening game against the Czech Republic, Cameron wants to see the team play sound 200-foot hockey going forward.
Canada Easily Slides to 7-2 Win in Game 2
The firepower for the Canadian U-20 squad was on full display in the second game in as many days. With the game being the final chance to make a good impression on Dave Cameron and the coaching staff, the group of hopefuls found the back of the net seven times, including five in the middle frame.
Brochu, the London Knights netminder, got the full game for the Canadian side while Cossa and Garand split the net at the other end of the ice. Brochu looked good but wasn’t tested all that often. When he wasm the chances weren’t particularly high danger scoring chances but the Knights goalie looked solid in his full game of action.
Logan Stankoven opened the scoring early in the second period, ripping a shot past Sebastian Cossa a minute into the frame. It was the first of three goals in the opening two minutes as Luke Evangelista and William Dufour each potted a goal in succession. It was Cossa’s first time looking a bit flustered in the net but the USports defense wasn’t doing much to help their netminder.
Lambos, who had an up-and-down first game, looked quite good in the second game. He was tasked with playing the point on a five-on-three powerplay, the Winnipeg Ice defender showed excellent poise and passing ability before attacking the space that the penalty kill afforded him. Moving into the high slot, Lambos beat Cossa with a very good shot, aided by a screen in front. This would be the last shot Cossa faced as the halfway mark of the game meant that Dylan Garand was ready to take over.
The goal was Lambos’ second point of the night after assisting on the earlier Dufour goal. Lambos’ versatile skill set allows him to fill a variety of roles for the Canadian squad, a fact he is well aware of.
“The role I’m going to play is whatever they ask me to,” Lambos said. “I just want to do whatever I can to help this team win, whether that’s an offensive, defensive, or two-way role, I am just going to do whatever they ask of me.” said the adaptable defender.
The 16-year-old Bedard recorded the primary assist on the Zellweger goal, his second of the night. Given the opportunity to play center in game two, Bedard did look a bit less dynamic but remained one of Canada’s driving forces offensively. His six points across as many periods were more than anyone else at the camp. Bedard did everything he possibly could have at this camp to make the team with his play, and it paid off.
Ryan Tverberg, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ seventh-round pick in 2020, stood out at various times in camp and was rewarded with one of the third-period goals. Coach Cameron noted his work ethic and consistent play throughout camp as an asset. Despite his solid camp, Tverberg’s appearance at the evaluation camp was a welcome sign for the late-blooming prospect, but he ultimately missed the final team.
Canada Makes Its Cuts
The final cuts from the evaluation camp came out a few hours after the game. The player’s cut were as follows. For a list of who made it – and who didn’t – click here.
There are no major surprises among the cuts. Hunt and Iorio could have made the roster without question but the blueline group they have, despite no right-shots, is solid. Their forwards look good with Cuylle being the mild surprise while Evangelista was left off. Roy’s good camp wasn’t enough to earn a spot for him either.
This will be a solid group that will compete for a gold medal but it isn’t without its flaws, as every roster has them. No right-shot defenders, particularly the absence of Thompson (COVID) and Brandt Clarke (no invite) may hurt them but as always with Canada, they can generally afford to make some odd decisions because of the depth of the talent pool. Expect this group to push for a medal, possibly gold.