McDavid, Fucale among seven returnees invited to Canada's world junior camp | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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McDavid, Fucale among seven returnees invited to Canada's world junior camp

Goaltender Zachary Fucale speaks to the media at a news conference to announce the roster for Team Canada's junior hockey selection camp in Montreal on Monday, December 1, 2014. The World Junior championships will be held in Toronto and Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
December 01, 2014 - 1:39 PM

MONTREAL - While Connor McDavid will be the star, he will likely share the 2015 world junior championship spotlight with goaltender Zach Fucale.

Fucale will not only be one of the local boys, he is also a Montreal Canadiens draft pick and will have a huge cheering section when Canada opens the tournament Dec. 26 at the Bell Centre against Slovakia.

"There's pressure everywhere, whether it's in junior or anywhere you step on the ice," the Halifax Mooseheads goalie said Monday as Hockey Canada released a list of 29 players invited to the team selection camp that opens Dec. 11 in Toronto.

"We're living the moment and we don't really have time to think about it. We just try to get ready for the games."

Canada finds itself in a five-year gold medal drought — and two years without any medal at all — at the event officially called the IIHF Under-20 World Championship. It hopes to end that by icing a team of mostly 19-year-old players, at least seven of whom are returning from last year's tournament in Malmo, Sweden.

They include Fucale, defencemen Chris Bigras of the Owen Sound Attack and Josh Morrissey of the Prince Albert Raiders, plus forwards McDavid of the Erie Otters, Frederik Gauthier of the Rimouski Oceanic, Nic Petan of the Portland Winterhawks and Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay ice.

All are 19 except McDavid, the 17-year-old phenom who is expected to go first overall in the NHL draft in June. The Newmarket, Ont., native broke a bone in his right hand in a fight Nov. 12 with the Mississauga Steelheads' Bryson Cianfone.

While McDavid, who was leading the Ontario Hockey League with 51 points in 18 games when he got hurt, has not returned to action, there was no concern about inviting him to the selection camp. He is expected to skate with the team in camp and be ready for the tournament.

"It's a no-brainer to select him," said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada's vice-president for national teams. "Even with one hand, he still might be one of the best players in the world.

"We've had good conversations with Connor and his family and we feel he's going to be 100 per cent ready to go. He's getting another evaluation (on Dec. 9) and hopefully gets clearance at that time. We'll ease him back into the process, but we expect that on Dec. 26, he'll be a huge part of our team."

Still unclear is whether some 19-year-olds currently playing in the NHL will be loaned to Team Canada. The clubs have until the Dec. 19 NHL roster freeze to decide.

Hockey Canada has already been told that Florida defenceman Aaron Ekblad will remain with the Panthers, but there is a chance to have Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Curtis Lazar of the Ottawa Senators or Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks, who played at last year's world juniors, or New York Rangers forward Anthony Duclair.

Actually, 2013 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon is still eligible, but he's firmly established with the Colorado Avalanche.

The team coached by Benoit Groulx will be pared to 22 players for the tournament. The 29 invitees include 10 defencemen, 17 forwards and only two goalies: Fucale and Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans.

Seven will be cut after camp to leave two goalies and likely seven rearguards and 13 up front.

It is a second year in a row Canada has chosen its goalies in advance. Director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski said Fucale and Comrie have been the country's most consistent junior puck-stoppers over the last two years. A third goalie can be added during the tournament if needed.

"It gives them longer to prepare mentally for the challenge ahead of them," said Jankowski. "They know they're the goalies and we have confidence in them. That's more important than a competition in camp."

Added Salmond: "Zach is a very composed young man. We really believe Zach's the guy who can handle that pressure. We talked about it in depth. We believe his ability on the ice and his mental capacities and maturity will allow him to be at his best."

Last year's team coached by Brent Sutter was its second-youngest ever at the tournament. It was seen at the time as a planned move to have a more experienced squad with this year's event played at home. Canada plays the group stage in Montreal and the knockout games in Toronto.

Among 19-year-olds who could make the team are six-foot-seven defenceman Samuel Morin of Rimouski and six-foot-four Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, first round picks in 2013 by Philadelphia and Edmonton respectively.

Among forwards, there are first rounders Max Domi of the London Knights (Arizona) and Morgan Klimchuk of the Regina Pats (Calgary).

Some highly regarded 18-year-olds (born in 1996) include the Kelowna Rockets' Rourke Chartier, currently leading the Western Hockey League with 29 goals and 48 points in 27 games, Vancouver first rounder Jake Virtanen of the Calgary Hitmen and Red Deer Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury, taken seventh overall in June by Carolina.

"This team will be built on speed and skill," said Salmond. "There will be an opportunity for all four lines to play with skill.

"When we look at the last couple of years, we haven't got the production from what people would term our bottom six. So we're looking for more production from those guys, which translates into more skill on the third and fourth lines."

Other defencemen invited were Madison Bowey of Kelowna, Dillon Heatherington of the Swift Current Broncos, Joe Hicketts of the Victoria Royals, Travis Sanheim, a Flyers first rounder from the Hitmen, and Seattle's Shea Theodore.

Hicketts is fifth in WHL scoring with 36 points, including seven goals.

Forwards also invited were Nick Baptiste of Erie, Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs, Michael Dal Colle of the Oshawa Generals, Jason Dickenson and Robby Fabbri of Guelph, Remi Elie of the Belleville Bulls, Nick Paul of the North Bay Battalion, Brayden Point of the Moose Jaw Warriors and Nick Ritchie of the Peterborugh Petes.

Jankowski said Paul and Elie were not on the team's radar a year ago but have played themselves into contention. Elie, Hicketts, Chartier and Crouse were not invited to the team's camp last summer, but also changed some minds over the last six months.

A danger of going with an older squad is that there will be few returnees for 2016, when the tournament will beheld in Helsinki. It will be back in Montreal and Toronto in 2017.

"We're focused on this year," said Jankowski. "Last year, it wasn't a great group of '94s.

"That's why all the '95s ended up playing. As much as we'd like to prepare some guys for next year, it's about winning now. We'll deal with next year as we move forward."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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