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New Brunswick

Canada opens world junior hockey camp months after strange summer tournament

James Boyd had a lot more runway this time.

The postponed and reimagined 2022 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, moved from last December and January to August due to COVID-19, presented unique challenges.

It was a daily struggle for the head of Hockey Canada’s management group to figure out which players would show up in Edmonton for an ill-timed tournament — one played after the NHL draft and just weeks before the start of a new season.

“We’ve had players who weren’t available, we’ve had players who were injured after a long season,” Boyd said. “In the end we had 15, 16, 17 unavailable players.

“In June we had players dropping out every day.”

The 2023 edition of the showcase event is much more straightforward. The next step in the process is scheduled to begin Friday when Canada’s 31 invitees to the selection camp in Moncton, NB hit the ice

“It was a clean process,” said Boyd, whose day job is general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s.

The on-ice process will be overseen by head coach Dennis Williams – bench manager to Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips and this summer’s assistant to Canada’s gold medalist.

“We weren’t really sure what was going to happen after the draft and what the tournament was going to be like,” he said of the event. “But what I’ve learned from my time at Hockey Canada is that everyone is there to do a great job and they give you all the resources.

“We want to launch a great product that Canadian fans will enjoy.”

Dennis Williams, the newly appointed head coach of Canada’s junior ice hockey team, also has experience as a medal-winning assistant at previous international events. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The first camp list of 29 players released last week was led by Talismanic center Connor Bedard.

The 17-year-old Regina Pats star leads the WHL with an incredible 27 goals and 64 points in just 28 games, cementing his status as the likely top pick in the 2023 draft.

Another name at the top is University of Michigan freshman Adam Fantilli, who would be under discussion as a potential No. 1 were it not for Bedard.

And then there are the NHL reinforcements en route to the Maritimes.

The Los Angeles Kings announced on Wednesday that they are loaning defenseman Brandt Clarke to Hockey Canada before the U-20 men’s national team landed an even bigger fish – Seattle Kraken forward Shane Wright.

The No. 4 in last summer’s draft has had a stop-start in his pro career – scoring his first NHL goal earlier this week – and is now in the mix after also being loaned to Canada.

Wright did not play for the national team this summer but was part of the group a year ago before that tournament was postponed by the coronavirus.

“When the Kraken calls and Shane is available, we’ll jump for joy,” Boyd said ahead of Thursday’s official announcement.

With the tournament, which opens Canada on December 26, returning to smaller North American ice in Halifax and Moncton, there is a clear emphasis on size and skill among the camp’s hopefuls, which include 10 summer returnees.

Nine of the ten defenders are at least two meters tall, while 14 of the 17 forwards are at least two meters tall.

But like any international tournament, there must be a buy-in for the final line-up of 13 forwards, seven defenders and three goalies.

“Everyone is a top player on their team, everyone plays a key role,” Boyd said. “We’re going to need them to adapt and embrace the role we’re given.

“We are delighted to be working with this new group.”

This group has no connection to Hockey Canada’s scandalous spring, summer and fall, which have led to harsh criticism, funding cuts and the resignation of leadership, but the players will continue to be in the spotlight as the national organization looks forward.

“We want to make sure we’re focused on how we’re doing things on and off the ice,” Williams said. “We want to minimize distractions, whether it’s pressure or anything external. Our boys come excited, our boys come determined. You know the expectations.

“We are here to coach hockey and bring the best product to the ice by keeping them at a high level on and off the ice.”

And after the rollercoaster ride to the world’s last juniors, Hockey Canada’s Brain Trust is hoping for a smoother ride on the country’s Atlantic Seaboard.

“We weren’t sure if there was going to be a tournament,” Boyd said of the August event. “It was an interesting year and a half here. There is a pandemic, restrictions, the cancellation of the tournament, the summer tournament. It was different.

“But it was great — the whole thing.”

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