MONTREAL—Without an obvious star player to carry the pressure and expectations, Canada’s team for the world junior hockey championship will be all about teamwork, speed and desire.
The final 22-man roster that emerged from this week’s four-day selection camp in Boisbriand, Que., is deep in very good players, such as 2015 third overall NHL draft pick Dylan Strome or Ontario Hockey League scoring leader Taylor Raddysh, but doesn’t have a Connor McDavid or a John Tavares to claim the spotlight.
“We want to be a complete team,” said coach Dominique Ducharme, the Drummondville Voltigeurs coach and general manager who led the Halifax Mooseheads to the 2013 Memorial Cup. “We’ve got speed, skill.
“We’re reliable. We can defend. We’re good at putting pressure on the other team. We want to put all that together.”
The heat will be on Canada after a quarter-final elimination from last year’s world junior event by host Finland.
And this year the stakes may be higher in Montreal and Toronto, where Canada won gold in two years ago.
Canada could have had an awesome lineup, but six players eligible for the under-20 tournament are already in the NHL, including McDavid, Mitch Marner, Travis Konecny, Lawson Crouse, Jacob Chychrun and Anthony Beauvillier. But other teams will also be missing stars. The Americans will be without Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Matthew Tkachuk, Zach Werenski and Noah Hanifin and the Finns won’t have Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho and Jesse Puljujarvi.
“It doesn’t matter if you have a big superstar or not,” said Val d’Or Foreurs forward Julien Gauthier. “If every guy is moving in the same direction, that’s how you win games, and I think that’s what we’re going to do this year.”
After routing the Czech Republic 8-0 in an exhibition game, the team made its final cuts and headed Thursday to Mont-Tremblant, Que. for some team-building ahead of a pre-tournament game Monday night against Finland at the Bell Centre, where the final will be played on Jan. 5.
Ducharme and his staff will begin work on forming lines and defence pairs among the 13 forwards, seven rearguards and two goalies on the roster ahead of the tournament opener Jan. 26 in Toronto.
“Now we prepare,” he said. “We wanted to evaluate players, but we already started talking about our style of play, our philosophy and our mindset.
“Now we’ll move away, practice, get ready and become a stronger group. We have four lines plus one (player), that can be producing offensively, playing responsibly, playing with speed. We’ll see different combinations but, on every line, I think we can see some speed, scoring and responsible play. We have hockey players. We talked about being special and I think those guys showed they can be special.”
Strome, who started the season with the Arizona Coyotes, is a natural fit with his Erie Otters linemate Raddysh and he played at the team’s summer development camp with gritty Tyson Jost of the University of North Dakota.
Mathieu Joseph, who has 25 goals in 29 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs, New York Islanders first-round pick Mathew Barzal and Saginaw Spirit forward Mitchell Stephens are among the others who can add offensive spark.
Strome, Stephens, Gauthier, Anthony Cirelli and rushing defenceman Thomas Chabot played at last year’s world juniors and will be counted on for leadership.
A question mark is Pierre-Luc Dubois, the 2016 third-overall pick by Columbus who has been off his usual scoring pace with Cape Breton and did not have a good camp. The big centre/left-winger hopes to find his form at the world juniors.
Chabot, Noah Juulsen and six-foot-four Philippe Myers are expected to lead the defence.
“With the group of seven (defencemen) we have now we’re complete,” said Ducharme. “We have skating, we’ve got some of the physical aspect, we have good puck movement. It’s a question of balance.”
Carter Hart, a smooth 18-year-old who has put up impressive numbers in the Western Hockey League this season, is expected to be the starting goalie, with Connor Ingram as backup.
Dark horses who could make a mark in the tournament include Boston University defenceman Dante Fabbro, big centre Nicolas Roy of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, energetic forward Dillon Dube of the Kelowna Rockets or right winger Blake Speers, who has returned from a wrist injury after starting the season with the New Jersey Devils.
There are four sets of club teammates on the squad—Hart and Juulsen with the Everett Silvertips, Strome and Raddysh with Erie, Chabot and Joseph with Saint John and a pair of defencemen in Myers and Jeremy Lauzon from the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
Others on the squad include quick forward Michael McLeod of the Mississauga Steelheads and defencemen Jake Bean of the Calgary Hitmen and Kale Clague of the Brandon Wheat Kings.