By Bryan Thiel (@BryanThiel_88)
When Hockey Canada announced the roster for the National Junior Team’s Selection Camp on Tuesday, it was the culmination of months of work going all the way back to the summer. With Scott Salmond, the Vice-President of Hockey Operations and National Teams, and Director of Player Personnel Ryan Jankowski on hand, the young men that would compete for the final roster and a trip to Finland were announced.
Overall 30 players received invites (including defencemen Brandon Hickey and Jake Walman from the NCAA), with 13 of those players coming from the Ontario Hockey League.
The decision in net seems to be a fairly straightforward one for Hockey Canada, as Barrie Colts goalie Mackenzie Blackwood is one of only two goalies (Mason McDonald of the QMJHL being the other) to be invited. Blackwood is neck-and-neck with Erie’s Devin Williams for the best goals-against average in the OHL, while also sitting second in wins (16) and first in save percentage (0.930).
Blackwood also got an extended look in Team OHL’s first game against Russia in the Super Series in Owen Sound, when he made 25 saves in a 3-0 OHL win. “We’ve liked him (Blackwood) since the summer which is why we took him to (summer development) camp,” explained Jankowski. He had a great game in Owen Sound during the Super Series, and did exactly what he needed to do to earn a spot here.”
In front of Blackwood on the blueline could be a few names OHL fans are familiar with. Travis Dermott (Erie), Vince Dunn (Niagara), and Roland McKeown (Kingston) all received invitations to camp along with the lone draft eligible OHL’er of the bunch in Jakob Chychrun. Dunn, Dermott and McKeown are 1, 2, 3 in scoring among OHL defencemen, and could provide Canada with the type of responsible two-way game they’re hoping to get out of their blueline this year. Chychrun meanwhile, had a slower start to the year thanks to last season’s shoulder surgery, but Hockey Canada has been pleased with the progress he’s made over the first third of the season.
In terms of forwards, there’s plenty of firepower and a little experience coming from Ontario. Lawson Crouse (Kingston) is one of just three returnees for Canada this year, and is hoping for back-to-back gold medals. His best friend Travis Konecny (Ottawa) has an opportunity to join Crouse on the journey, something the two are excited about.
“To be able to do this with your best friend is something really special,” Crouse said through a smile. “We were texting yesterday when we found out. We couldn’t really tell anyone else though because you have to keep it quiet.”
Jankowski says that, if he makes it, Konecny brings a lot of energy and excitement with him every time he steps on the ice. The same could be said of many of the forwards picked out of the OHL, as London’s Mitch Marner (fourth in league scoring) and Erie’s Dylan Strome (tied with Marner) were invited to camp along with Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa), Brendan Perlini (Niagara), Mitchell Stephens (Saginaw), and Spencer Watson (Kingston).
While Marner and Strome have been linked the past couple of years through the NHL Draft and division battles between the Otters and Knights, the two may be teammates in a few weeks time and doing battle with a couple of current teammates.
“D (Christian Dvorak) I’m not worried about, I can handle him. Tkachuk worries me though, he can be kind of a loose cannon sometimes,” Marner said with a laugh when asked about the prospect of potentially facing some current teammates. Those two, along with Erie Otter and American Alex Debrincat lead the OHL in scoring and could be part of a very dangerous Team USA.
Other News and Notes:
-Team Canada will two games against the CIS on December 12 and 13. Former OHLers Kevin Bailie (Oshawa/London), Spencer Abraham (Brampton/Erie), Tim Campbell (Guelph), Colin Behenna (Barrie), Liam Heelis (Peterborough/Owen Sound), and Eric Locke (Windsor/Barrie/Saginaw) are former OHLers taking part.
-The process is a little different this year for Lawson Crouse. Not only is he looked upon more as a leader for Canada this time, but he got to go through the whole process this year. He missed summer camp last year while at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
-Crouse also mentioned that teammates Spencer Watson and Roland McKeown are very excited about the opportunity in front of them and the three of them have talked a lot about it.
-Marner mentioned that when he got the call he was exhausted, having just come off a three-in-three with the Knights this past weekend. He wasn’t sure he was going to answer the call until he looked down and saw the area code. At that point he just hoped Ryan Jankowski couldn’t tell how groggy he was.
Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.