Thursday, December 10, 2009

Competition at Team Canada Camp

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With just 6 returning players, Hockey Canada will have plenty of tough decisions to make as to which players will wear the Maple Leaf and attempt to take home an unprecedented 6th consecutive gold medal.

Hockey Canada has invited 36 players to Regina and all have a legitimate chance at claiming a spot on the team. All except Cody Hodgson who many expected to be named captain of the club. It was announced on Tuesday that Hodgson will not take part in the camp or the tournament itself and head scout Al Murray told listeners of The Pipeline Show on Tuesday that they will not bring in another player to take his camp spot.

"It would have been a bonus to get Cody anyway," said Murray, "We were fairly certain that had he been healthy at the start of the year he would have been in the NHL so he wasn't a player that we were really counting on but he would have been a nice bonus."
Rather than go over the list of players who failed to make the invite list, I chose to talk to Murray strictly about the players who are at the camp. Dean and I quickly noticed that, if they want to, Canada could ice two lines that consist of teammates - the Windsor line of Adam Henrique, Greg Nemisz and Taylor Hall as well as the trio of Jordan Caron, Patrice Cormier and Phil Cornet who played together last year in Rimouski. Although he admitted that possibility exists, Murray wouldn't comment to much on what the camp lines look like just yet.
"We've looked at their strengths and weaknesses and we've looked at the other guys coming in and we know that they can play together, as we have put our lines together going into the camp we have split some guys up," said Murray, "All those are up to the coach's discretion and can change from minute to minute."
Stefan Della Rovere is a returning player who, frankly, I didn't like on the team last year as much as most people. I thought he was too undisciplined and that Canada succeeded despite his penalty contribution. I asked Murray if his spot was secure or if he still had to earn his way onto the final roster while perhaps showing a bit more maturity.
"No one gets a spot guaranteed coming into the camp - there are players who have played well for us in the past that you expect will get a job but everybody has to re-earn their spot," said the head scout, "I think that's one of the strengths of our program."
As you would expect, Murray argued that Pat Quinn did a fine job with Della Rovere last year and that the player was instrumental in Canada's come from behind win against the Americans.

Next we talked about the four players who are eligible for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. I asked Murray if Tyler Seguin, John McFarland, Brandon Gormley and Taylor Hall were competing with each other for one underage spot or if there was room for more than one on the final roster. The scout used John Tavares and Steven Stamkos in 2008 and Evander Kane with Ryan Ellis last year as examples of how it can work out for younger players.

Last year Pat Quinn told The Pipeline Show that NCAA players, like Oiler prospect Riley Nash, are at a huge disadvantage at the camp because of how few games they have played to this point in the season. While their CHL counterparts all have 30 games or so under their belt, Patrick Wiercioch and Dylan Olsen have half that number so far and Harvard's Louis Leblanc has only played 8 games this year. I asked Murray just how high the hill is for the NCAA players to climb considering the lack of game experience in their schedules.
"It's certainly tougher for those guys and that's one of the advantages that we have as a country is that so many of our players are from the CHL," said Murray, "Good players are good players and you only have to look back a short time period to see Jonathon Toews dominate a World Junior. we want the best players no matter where they are from, the majority of our guys choose to play in the CHL and that's a big advantage for us."
A couple of weeks ago we had Sam Cosentino on the show and he offered up the name Gabriel Bourque as his dark horse player to not only get an invite to camp but to be on the final roster. Murray liked Cosentino's eye and went on to describe Bourque's abilities.
"He doesn't know how to take a shift off; he plays hard every shift, he has a high skill level and although he's not a big guy he's a very physical player," said Murray, "He's on of those small guys that hits like a truck. For WHL people who remember Dana Tyrell, that's a very similar style to Gabriel Bourque."
A couple of weeks back I spoke with Jared Cowen who expressed a bit of concern in regards to his knee. Cowen suffered a season ending injury last year and admits it's not yet 100% but he very badly wants to be a part of the WJC this year for Canada. I asked Murray if Cowen's concerns about mobility were shared by Hockey Canada.
"I think that's a fair statement on Jared's part," agreed Murray, "I think he's still working back through the knee situation, he's had a good start to the season and we're interested to see how he'll play at the camp."

Travis Hamonic might not be a name that generates a lot of recognition across the country but around the WHL there are people who believe he might be the top performing blueliner in the league this year.
"He was very close to making last year's team, he was one of the final cuts," said Murray, "He's a defensive defenceman first and foremost; he has terrific gap control and makes things tough on the forwards as they come in on the rush. He makes a lot of his plays up high on the offensive blueline and he finishes his checks hard. He's a hard player to play against and you like to put him out against the top line of the opposition because they'll have to earn every inch of ice. This year he's really added an offensive edge to his game as one of the top scoring defencemen in the country."
Goaltending to me is a much more cloudy picture than it was even a month ago. I still expect Jake Allen to be the starter but notice that he currently has a losing record in Montreal (now .500). Olivier Roy has overcome a horrible start to the year and remains pretty inconsistent. Matt Hackett (above) appears to be a steady and reliable if not unspectacular goalie and Martin Jones has the worst stats of his WHL career despite playing on a strong Calgary Hitmen team. I asked Murray who the hottest goalie is coming into camp.
"I think they've all played well at various points," Murray began, "All four present a little different package when you look at them, they play a little different style, but all four are very capable of grabbing that #1 spot. They were the four keepers at our summer camp and it wasn't by design that they came back but in our opinion they re-earned those spots."
Finally, I threw out a bunch of names that we hadn't even talked about yet and made the point that with so many top level players competing for a limited number of spots, do players play themselves off the team more so than working their way onto it?
"There isn't a player that comes into camp that doesn't have an opportunity to earn a spot," said Murray, "Sometimes there are 4 or 5 guys battling for one spot but it's whoever plays best that grabs that spot. Every year there are players that come in highly touted and haven't handled the situation very well, they've been intimidated or tense up or take it too lightly and don't compete at the top of their game and quite frankly it's easy for us to say 'sorry, you're not going to make it this year'. The last few cuts are always very difficult."
My thanks to Al Murray for taking the time to preview the camp with me on Tuesday night. You can hear that entire conversation by clicking HERE.

Canada's sessions begin on Saturday in Regina and will include two inter-squad games and an exhibition against a CIS opponent made up of Saskatchewan Huskies and Regina Rams. The final team is expected to be revealed on Wednesday.

4 comments:

Doogie2K said...

I wonder if Jones hasn't been nursing an injury for much of the year. He barely played for a good month after he came back from NHL camp, and his numbers have been uninspiring to put it mildly. He doesn't have the murderer's row in front of him he had last year, but it's still a decent defence.

Then again, after watching the Hitmen choke on a 3-0 lead to lose 6-5 in the shootout last night, maybe I should revise that assessment. God, that was an awful third period. Snider didn't help, but man, it was a fire drill every time there was a loose puck.

Guy Flaming said...

He's had a high ankle sprain according to Al Murray from Hockey Canada. That's what he said on our show last week.

Doogie2K said...

That would explain a great deal. Thanks Guy.

Carlo said...

I know that Hockey Canada is one of the best but I've heard some players take Generic Viagra to get an incredible power I think that's not true.