Selecting talent for Canada’s junior hockey team ‘a real challenge’: coach

Canada won the first match up 2-1 in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, then dropped the second bout 3-1 in Langley, B.C., the next night

Tim Hunter knows he’s got some tough decisions looming on the horizon.

The head coach of Canada’s junior national team will soon have to invite dozens of the country’s most talented young hockey players to selection camp.

Then he’ll have to whittle the group down to a final squad to play in this year’s IIHF world juniors championship, which starts in Vancouver and Victoria on Dec. 26.

“You want competition at positions and you want lots of players that you have to make decisions on,” Hunter said.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun and it’s going to be a real challenge.”

Choosing who will go to camp got tougher this week as Hunter coached a team made up of the Western Hockey League’s best in a pair of games against the Russian junior team as part of the Canadian Hockey League’s annual Canada Russia series.

Canada won the first match up 2-1 in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, then dropped the second bout 3-1 in Langley, B.C., the next night.

Some lesser-known names stepped up in both games, Hunter said.

“There are the guys that are the star players that are under the radar to start with, but then you take guys like Brett Leason as an example, who’s come on the radar because of his play in the early season,” Hunter said, referring to a 19-year-old right winger for the Prince Albert Raiders.

READ MORE: Schedule released for world junior hockey championship in B.C.

“He’s a good player and we like a lot of things about his game.”

Leason has 39 points in 17 games this season and leads the WHL with 17 goals.

But the six-foot-four Calgary native was passed up at the NHL draft last year.

The experience motivated Leason to hit the gym hard over the summer, build strength in his legs and get faster, and he started the season with confidence.

“My coach trusts me, just letting me go in all aspects of the game, just letting me play my game, move my feet, do my thing,” he said.

Getting called for the WHL team was exciting, Leason said, and he’s hoping his phone will ring again when it’s time for selection camp.

“It’s obviously something I’ve been pushing for for a very long time,” he said.

Guys like Leason are why Hockey Canada doesn’t make early decisions about who should come to selection camp, Hunter said.

“We want guys, if they’ve got some mojo going and they’re playing well to start the season, we want to catch that wave with these guys and get them to the world juniors,” he said.

There could be more unexpected standouts when the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League field their own teams against the Russians starting in Sarnia, Ont., on Thursday.

Some young NHL prospects could also complicate Hunter’s decisions.

The coach’s list of potential players recently got a boost when defenceman Evan Bouchard and left winger Alex Formenton were sent back to the OHL’s London Knights.

Bouchard tallied one goal in seven games with the Edmonton Oilers this season and Formenton played nine games for the Ottawa Senators, finding the back of the net once.

Hunter said he’s looking forward to getting Formenton back and hopes he won’t be the only returnee from last year’s gold medal-winning team.

St. Louis Blues prospect Robert Thomas and Maxime Comtois of the Anaheim Ducks also played with that group and could be eligible again this year if they’re sent back to juniors.

“We’re hoping to get some of them back because of their familiarity of the template that’s brought us success, a silver and a gold,” Hunter said.

“But you can’t rely on the NHL. And you’ve really got to cheer these guys on to have success and make their dream of playing in the NHL.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘Manny’s Motel’ badly damaged by fire Jan. 15

Police say 40 Ave. closed due to fire, use alternate route

From courthouse to council’s house

Old courthouse had long history before becoming City Hall

Revenue Canada, RCMP don’t accept Bitcoin: police

RCMP issue Bitcoin warning posters

Writer says Alberta highway system falling apart

Highways in ‘deplorable’ condition: writer

County council denies request for parking lot

Buck Lake groups are welcome to raise funds and return to council

Canada to bolster screening of central China passengers for virus at 3 airports

Additional measures will include messaging on arrivals screens in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver

PHOTOS: Eastern Newfoundland reeling, search underway for missing man after blizzard

More than 70 centimetres of new snow fell overnight, creating whiteout conditions

Prince Harry, Meghan to give up ‘royal highness’ titles

‘Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,’ says Queen Elizabeth II

RCMP Major Crimes Unit lays charges in Stettler death

Nicholas Climb Johnson, 32, of Stettler is charged with second degree murder in the death of his father

Metis nations ask Ottawa to negotiate directly with them, not national body

Three provincial Metis nations will work through the national council until after the federal government releases its 2020 budget

Canada to give $25,000 to families of each Canadian who died in Iran plane crash

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also made it clear that Canada still expects Iran to compensate victims

Oil and gas industry applauds top court’s dismissal of B.C.’s Trans Mountain case

The high court’s ruling Thursday removes one of the remaining obstacles for the project

Sylvan Lake RCMP seek assistance in locating missing male

Mark Crier, 17, was last seen in Sylvan Lake on Jan. 13

UPDATE: Supreme Court dismisses B.C.’s appeal in Trans Mountain pipeline case

Judges decide whether B.C.’s power to protect environment can include impeding a federal project

Most Read