Monday, October 22, 2012

Hockey Canada Compiling the Invite List

The 2013 World Junior Championship is two months away making it a hectic 60 days for Hockey Canada between now and then. The upcoming Canada-Russia Subway Series will be a major factor in deciding which 40-some players receive invitations to the December camp before 22 are chosen to go to Russia. 

Head scout Kevin Prendergast was a guest on The Pipeline Show this past Saturday and updated our audience on the search for players to end Canada's two-year gold medal drought.

Photo: Matt Murgahan
Goaltending has been an issue for Canada in recent years. Despite having qualified netminders on the team, there have been occasions where they seemed to falter under the pressure at exactly the wrong time. It's been a while since a clear cut #1 has been on the team but that appears to be the case this time around. 

"At this point we feel Malcolm Subban (BOS) is our #1 guy and we’ll be looking for #2 and #3 from there," said Prendergast. The Belleville Bulls starter has held strong numbers through 10 games this season.

Last winter we wrote that Edmonton Oil Kings goalie Laurent Brossoit (CGY) would have to be considered more than just a candidate to receive an invite but a favourite to be on the team. Although he's still in the mix, Brossoit's stock has faltered over the last 6 months. 

"I don’t think he’s got off to the start that he wanted to, nor has the team as a whole, but from what he did last year he warrants an opportunity with us at this point," Prendergast said, "He did not have a good Memorial Cup and in the one game he played against the Russians this summer, he got off to a rough start in that one."

Photo: Andy Devlin
Expect Brossoit to play in at least one of the two WHL nights during the Subway Series games when the Russians come to play. His play there and in Edmonton will be the deciding factor.  

"I think it’s up to him at this point, I think he knows where he stands in the whole mix of things because he and Ron [Tugnutt] have talked quite a bit in the last couple of weeks," Prendergast expalined, "He’s got to be playing well in order to be in the mix, his reputation isn’t going to carry him anymore so he’s got to go and prove to us that he deserves to be one of the three goalies going forward."

That's the second time Prendergast mentioned three goalie and you might be wondering why. This year, with the tournament in Russia, both Canada and the United States will be bringing a third netminder along which won't count against the 22-man roster. 

"It’s a precaution only because of the distance and the visa situation trying to get a player in there in a hurry," he said, "We won’t have to declare our third goalie unless it’s an emergency situation and whatever goalie we take out will then be out of the tournament and we’d be down to the two we keep. The three that we take over we’re going to be comfortable with so that if something happened at some point, any of the three would be capable of being #1."
It's an interesting situation though because Hockey Canada will be taking a quality netminder away from a CHL team for about 3 weeks, probably their starter, and he may not even play in the event.
"We don’t want to leave a team in a vulnerable situation by taking a guy over," Prendergast said.

If that is a hint, then expect that Canada's third string goalie will come from a CHL team that has a strong backup, not unlike the Edmonton Oil Kings who can rely on 2013 draft eligible Tristan Jarry.

Asked if there might be a goalie in the mix that wasn't involved in the summer series against the Russians, Prendergast pointed to a goalie that we mentioned last February

Photo: CHL
"I think at this point it would be a goaltender named [Etienne] Marcoux playing in Blainville-Boisbriand," Predergast declared, "He’s gotten off to a great start, I think he’s only lost one game so far this year, so we’ll have a look at him in the Subway Series and see where he fits."

If you're looking for a fourth name to keep in mind for the December camp, Owen Sound's Jordan Binnington (STL) is making a strong case for himself this year having posted better stats than even Subban. 

Don't expect that despite the growing accolades, underaged goalies like Eric Comrie in Tri- City or Halifax's Zach Fucale to be in the picture for this year. In fact, we asked Prendergast about the balance between experience and youth when creating a winning team. The event has largely become a 19-year-old's tournament even though cut invites like Matt Duchene and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were in the NHL just 9 months later.

"You go back over the history of this tournament, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby had difficulty playing as 17-year-olds in this tournament," Prendergast pointed out, "[Underage players] get consideration but when you’re looking at the overall make up of the team and who you’re going to play against in this tournament... it’s easy for fans to say that a young guy playing for say, Halifax, the teams that they play against in the QMJHL or all three junior leagues, aren’t equivalent to the teams they will play against in the WJC."

"Go back to last year and look at the Swedes, look at the physical size of them; that was basically a team of men," he continued, "We’re going to take the best 22 players over that we feel we have a chance to win with. It’s not an audition for anything, it’s a team to go over and win a gold medal."

Photo: Werner Krainbucher
One guy who will buck that trend this year is Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads, the projected #1 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.  MacKinnon led Canada to Ivan Hlinka gold in August and appears to be a given to make the WJC team.

"He has to," admitted Prendergast, "The kid has put up tremendous numbers this year and he’s done everything that’s been asked of him in Halifax; he’s killing penalties, he’s playing physical, he’s a phenomenal skater. We still have a little ways to go before we name our team but at this point he’s certainly on the ‘A’ list."
Another member of the Class of 2013 that will get a long look is Ottawa 67's marquee forward Sean Monahan who benefitted from his summer experience with the team. 

"What we love about Sean is his versatility; he can play all three forward positions and he can play on your first line or your fourth line," Prendergast said, "I know Ottawa hasn’t gotten off to a good start this year but he is a high end skill player that can play anywhere you want him to play so it’s the same scenario and he’s one of the kids on our 'A' list."
Photo: Marissa Baecker
This year's Tanner Pearson, a guy who has never really been on the radar before, has to be Kamloops forward J.C. Lipon. The Regina product not only leads the Blazers or the WHL but the entire CHL in scoring with 31 points. Don't be ashamed if you're not familiar with the name - you're not alone. 

"Here’s a kid that I watched last year and I didn’t really think a whole lot of him as a player but he’s come a long way and certainly is on the radar for Hockey Canada at this point," confirmed Prendergast.

College players like Jordan Schwartz and Jonathan Toews are exceptions to the rule for Hockey Canada. It's not that they are biased against collegians, despite what you might hear south of the border, it's that they come to camp well behind in game action compared to their CHL counterparts. It's one theory as to why the United States frequently underachieve even though they have a team that on paper appears to ready to contend for gold.

Don't expect a large contingent of NCAA players coming to the December camp, especially if the NHL lockout is still on, but there are a trio on Prendergast's watch list and all three were guys who made my All-Canadian NCAA Team a couple weeks ago.

Photo: College Hockey Inc.
"[Phil] Di Giuseppe (CAR) was part of our team this summer, he’s going to get strong consideration going forward," he said, "[Michigan] is only into their second week of the schedule now so we’ll keep an eye on him over the next month."

"Two summers ago we had [Dillon] Simpson (EDM) from North Dakota at camp, we’ll go have another look at him this year. We have another kid, Matthew Peca (TBY), playing at Quinnipiac University. [Mark] Jankowski (CGY) was a first round pick of Calgary and playing at Providence, another big kid and probably on our “B” list but we’ll see where we stand coming into December. Depending on where we are with our player situation in December if the NHL does get back to work, obviously we’ll lose a lot of players on our roster right now."

Of course the NHL lockout will have a massive impact on the WJC as a whole and no more so than for Canada.

"We’ve almost got two lists going at this point; one with the guys that we feel are going to be available to us," said Prendergast, "Our understanding is that each NHL team submitted a list of two names to the CHL of players that they would bring in to a short camps and I think of the 28 players that we had in camp last summer, 21 of them are on that list. Obviously we would take a hell of a hit if the NHL is back, that’s the place that players want to be and we’ll work with it from there."

Photo: Getty Images
Some major pieces from the projected final team could suddenly become unavailable.

"Players like [Jonathan] Huberdeau (FLA), [Mark] Scheifele (WPG), [Ryan] Strome (NYI) and [Boone] Jenner (CLB)... it would hurt us on defence with guys like [Dougie] Hamilton (BOS), [Ryan] Murray (CLB) and players like that so we would take a big hit but there are a lot of good players in Canada," he continued, "It would put us in a situation where we’d have to be a much younger hockey team than we’d anticipated but that’s something we’ll address as we get closer to it."
You can add Ryan Murphy (CAR) and possibly Morgan Rielly (TOR) to that list as well. 

On the flip side, should the NHL lockout continue it could mean a unexpected loan to Canada of a star player much like Patrice Bergeron being available from Boston in 2005. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still eligible and is playing for Oklahoma City in the AHL for the minor league affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. If the NHL is still on hold, it would seem like a no-brainer for him to get to play for Canada like he'd hoped to do in 2011. 

Photo: Andy Devlin
"I don’t think we’ve even approached that subject yet with [The Oilers]," said Prendergast,"Obviously they’re aware of what the situation is and I think from Nugent-Hopkins’ point of view having never played in this tournament it would probably be a great experience for him if he were available. But at the end of the day that’s a decision that the Oilers are going to have to make."

The Subway Super Series will begin on November 5th in Blainville-Boisbriand and wraps up in Victoria on November 15th. The Russian team is said to be big, physical and talented with most of their projected WJC roster included. If true, that will be a great tool for Hockey Canada to gauge the players on the CHL teams. 

Expect the WJC invite list to come out a week or two after the Super Series. 


- Canada head coach Steve Spott (Kitchener) will be head coach for the both games in the OHL. His assistants will be Scott Walker (Guelph) and Jacques Beaulieu (Sarnia). 

- One of Canada's assistant coaches, André Tourigny (Rouyn-Noranda) will be the bench boss for both of the QMJHL games. One assistant in those two contest will be Drummondville's Mario Duhamel while J.F. Houle (Blainville-Boisbriand) and Mario Durocher (Val d'Or) will split duty the other two games.

- In the WHL games, Canada assistant coach Don Nachbaur (Spokane) will be coach. Don Hay (Vancouver) and Derek Laxdal (Edmonton) are expected to be named as the two assistants.

- Don't expect Kevin Roy (ANH) to be in the mix unless he has an unreal couple of months with Northeastern. Although part of the summer series between Canada and Russia, he didn't impress enough. 

- A darkhorse that I would at least consider (and think Canada should too): 6'5 forward Adam Lowry (WPG) of the Swift Current Broncos.    

1 comment:

speeds said...

It's true that Mario played at 17, but he was a late birthday so it was his 16/17 year old season - it would have been the equivalent of Monahan playing last year, or Hall playing in the 2009 WJHC. I never saw that tournament, have no idea how he looked on the ice, but apparently he disliked how he was used by the coach.

That was, again, reportedly, at least part of the reason that he chose not to play for Canada in the WJHC in his draft year.