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.

Just Posted

Strong winds up to 100 km/h for parts of Vancouver Island

Wind warning in effect for north, east and west Vancouver Island into Saturday morning

Two of Chemainus photographer Marston’s images picked among National Geographic’s 2018 elite

Rare double honour from the 36 best Your Shots out of nearly 19,000 photos

Police officer recounts wild car chase through downtown Ladysmith and Duncan

B.C. Supreme Court trial of Armaan Singh Chandi hears of pursuit following Nanaimo drive-by shooting

Ladysmith a stride closer to fitness trail

Work could get underway on initial groundwork this spring

Small external fire extinguished quickly at Catalyst’s Crofton pulp mill

Fire department called Monday afternoon as part of protocol, but services not needed

VIDEO: U.S. Congress to probe whether Trump told lawyer Cohen to lie

At issue is a BuzzFeed News report that about negotiations over a Moscow real estate project

Explosion sends B.C. firefighter to hospital

Kelowna fire crews responded to a blaze at Pope’sGallery of BC Art & Photography on Friday

Ex-Mountie investigating ‘Surrey six’ murders pleads guilty to obstruction

Derek Brassington entered his plea in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday

Rare ‘super blood wolf moon’ takes to the skies this Sunday

Celestial event happens only three times this century

Arrest made after historic B.C. church hit by arson

The fire at the 150-year-old Murray United Church in Merritt was considered a possible hate crime

Overworked and understaffed: More than 300 vacancies in Vancouver Island nursing

Tentative deal with province includes ‘working short premium’ to encourage hiring

Minor mattress fire could have killed, Nanaimo Fire Rescue warns

Public fire safety warnings issued following potentially deadly fire on Victoria Road

B.C. dangerous offender in court for violating no-contact order, sends letter to victim

Wayne Belleville was shocked to see a letter addressed to him from his shooter, Ronald Teneycke

Wind, tides could combine for 7-metre Long Beach waves Saturday

Extreme wave hazard warning at the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

Most Read