The first split-squad game between Team Canada’s Red and White team’s are in the books, with Team White taking a 4-2 win on Saturday night in Red Deer, Alberta. The game was the first real chance for the players to coach Tourigny and his staff what they’re able to do in a competitive setting. Obviously, with it being the first game, there was bound to be some rust, but overall, it was an impressive display for all those who took part.
Bowen Byram was without a doubt the best defender on the ice on Saturday. Despite his team’s 4-2 loss, Byram, 19-years-old, was dynamic every time he stepped foot on the ice. He was able to skate around opposing players and carry the puck right up to the net.
This would allow the defensemen to create a strong scoring chance all by himself. Byram’s puck-handling abilities were on full display, as the Canadian was constantly getting past opposing players in contested situations. Overall, watching Byram play, he seemed like he’s been playing all season long instead of the reality being that he last skated professionally with the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL Playoff bubble.
Peyton Krebs looked like a seasoned NHL veteran out there as Team Canada White took down Team Canada Red. The native of Okotoks, Alberta caught my eye right off the bat with thanks to his speed. Not only was he out-skating opponents, but the forward was also able to make space for himself in order to create solid scoring chances.
On the power play, he was Team Red’s quarterback, finding his teammates with his elite playmaking abilities. He dished out quite a few nice passes in order to create some very dangerous scoring chances. His vision and hockey IQ were exactly where they need to be to lock up a roster spot.
The Vegas prospect had some good scoring chances, including a fanned shot on a breakaway in the opening period. Despite going pointless in game one, he’s already looking like a lock to make Team Canada’s roster for the World Juniors Championships.
Pelletier can do it all. He has great offensive instincts and seemed to always execute the right plays. He wracked up two points on Saturday, including a deflection off a shot from Cole Perfetti and a primary assist on the goal scored by Justin Barron. Pelletier was fairly strong in his own zone and can be used well when it comes to the penalty kill. He seems like the kind of player that Andre Tourigny will want in his lineup for his ability to just fit in wherever.
After going pointless in his first chance to represent his country, Dawson Mercer looks as if he’ll be given plenty of roles offensively during this year’s tournament. Mercer, a prospect of the Devils, was arguably the best player on the ice on Saturday night. Whether he was setting up his teammates or driving to the net, the centreman should do no wrong.
His hockey IQ is elite, which was made clear quickly as the scrimmage took place. He was constantly intercepting passes in order to create breakaways or other dangerous offensive chances. He did so by anticipating where the puck was going to go. He also made quite a few NHL-calibre passes that went tape-to-tape while on the fly with his teammates.
After his media conference following the game, the forward said he wants to be a versatile player that a team can rely on in any situation. If Saturday’s game showed us anything, it was exactly that with his two-way play.
Goncalves is not one of the popular guys entering camp, but he has made it a mission to make his presence known. He did that early on in the game, getting his team on the board with the opening goal. He did so as he buried a rebound right past Taylor Gauthier to break open the scoring.
Aside from his game-opening goal, Goncalves, from Mission, B.C., seemed to be all over the place when he took to the ice. He had some solid shots when on the forecheck, as he pressured opponents and made some rather sneaky offensive plays. He doesn’t look like a top-six player for Team Canada, but he is looking like a guy who can be relied on in various situations.
This is something that coach Andre Tourigny said himself and his coaching staff were seeking on Tuesday. Tourigny certainly noticed Goncalves on Saturday and is likely to keep a closer eye on him on Sunday.
Other Notable Details:
The QMJHL Players Looked Ready
Out of all three leagues in the Canadian Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is the only one that’s actually started their season. As such, those attending Selection Camp who play in the Q have already gotten some game action in this year. A handful of those players had themselves quite an outing on Saturday night. Dawson Mercer was the best player out there while Jakob Pelletier scored a goal and one assist.
Kirby Dach’s Ice Time
As a player who many expect to be a lock in December for Team Canada’s tournament roster, we really didn’t see much of Dach on Saturday night in the first of three games. A native of Fort Saskatchewan, he was started in game one as Team White’s third-line centreman.
Dach did have some rather solid shifts and performed fairly well when he took to the ice. However, after the opening period, the Alberta native seemed to play less and less.
Each of Team Canada’s four goalies got to play half the game, splitting parts of Saturday night. After game one, the goalie situation appears wide open, but that may change following games on Sunday and Tuesday.
Dylan Garand, who started the game for Team White, was the only goaltender to debut with a shutout. He did so through 30 minutes of play. Tourigny said he was impressed with Garand’s performance, but the battle for the starting job has just only begun.
Brett Brochu of the London Knights suited up in the second half for Team White on Sunday. Like the other two goalies besides Garand, Brochu allowed two goals, but looked fairly strong, especially late in the third period. In the dying minutes of the third period alone, Brochu stood on his head to keep Team White in line for the victory.
He stopped a dangerous breakaway from Cole Perfetti, and in the last minute, he stopped a deadly partial breakaway that looked like it would have resulted in a goal from Hendrix Lappiere. All four goalies played fairly well and each had their own moments seen throughout the game. We will have to wait and see how game two plays out to see if there’s a momentum shift had in the battle for starting goaltender. If Garand posts another strong game, the Victoria native could take the lead for the starters job.