Kevin Prendergast and the coaching staff for Team Canada received 2 early presents Thursday night when it was announced by Anaheim and Tampa Bay that Devante Smith-Pelly and Brett Connolly would be loaned to the Canadian World Junior team.
Smith-Pelly was excellent at this summer's evaluation camp in Edmonton. He proved to many that he was more then just a checker or a mucker displaying a soft touch around the net while still providing a physical force, exactly the role he'll be asked to play in Edmonton when the tournament starts on Boxing Day. With the Ducks he had 3 goals and 2 assists and was -10 playing almost 11 minutes a game through 26 games.
Like Smith-Pelly, Connolly surprisingly stuck in the NHL and it was thought he was lost to Hockey Canada. But earlier tonight we were told there was a chance it could come down the pipe this weekend and Connolly would be wearing the Maple Leaf once again. The Prince George product confirmed it on Twitter:
Brett Connolly @bconnolly8 2 hrs DetailsI asked someone tonight if Connolly would see this as a positive that he gets to play in one of the best tournaments around or a negative that he won't be in the NHL?
Well let's go get a gold medal. #worldjuniors
"His last chance to win a gold medal for Canada and get redemption from last year on Canadian Soil? He'll be pumped."
Connolly had been stuck on 8 points for the past 10 games, but 2 of his four goals were game winners for Tampa. Last season he reeled off 46 and might have netted 60 if he didn't miss time while with Hockey Canada. He'll be out to improve on the 3 assist tournament he had last year when Canada settled for silver for the second straight year.
The decision by Tampa brings up another question. What happens when the tournament is over. Does Connolly return to the sunshine state or back to the interior of B.C? Is he this year's version of Brayden Schenn whom the Kings loaned to Team Canada last year and then back to Brandon, who dealt him for a boat load to Saskatoon. If that's the case then the return for Connolly along with Martin Marincin (Guy wrote about him earlier this week) would set the Cougars up well for years to come. As it is now the youth is leading the charge.
It would start to end some of the bad luck they've been dealt with injuries to Dana Tyrell and Connolly in the past that prevented them from making the playoffs or rebuilding properly.
It's rare that Hockey Canada gets 2 players let alone one so they really have to take advantage of it. The pair will really bolster the top two lines and their special teams. It doesn't sound like Erik Gudbranson will be made available, but then again HC can't get to greedy.
Will other teams follow suit with some of their players for other countries? If Nino Niederreiter was healthy enough would the Islanders loan him to the Swiss? He was dynamite during the 2010 tournament in Saskatoon and along with Sven Bartschi could give the Swiss a podium chance. However according to Aurther Staple it's not known when he'll be back on the ice.
How about the Carolina Hurricanes allowing Justin Faulk (left) to skate with the Stars and Stripes? Guy Flaming was told that Faulk asked the Hurricanes two months ago if he could play in the tournament. However the big club is dealing with some injuries and might need Faulk in the NHL. He would be a massive boost for Team U.S.A who already have a big blue line.