With the 2019 World Juniors just over two weeks away from commencing, Team Canada is hard at work in Oakville as selection camp got underway on Monday. However, this year tells a different tail for Hockey Canada as they introduce three 17-year-olds while being led by head coach Dale Hunter.

After impressing in the Canada Russia Series which jointly took place in both London and Kitchener, Hockey Canada sent out 31 invites with only 27 roster spots available. Amongst those who made the cut for the four-day selection camp in southern Ontario, the invite list included Erie’s Jamie Drysdale, Quinton Byfield of Sudbury and Cole Perfetti.

However, during the conference call hosted last Monday, Shawn Bullock, who is the director of Men’s National Teams with Hockey Canada, said that he had been in contact with the NHL teams of Joe Veleno, Noah Dobson and Barrett Hayton.

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As well, Shawn Bullock noted that Thursday December 19th would be the date where final decisions are made on whether these players get loaned to Team Canada or not. With that statement in mind, as players and coaches hit the ice on Monday, the organization announced around noon that Joe Veleno had been added to the roster. 

Veleno, a Detroit Red Wings prospect, instantly provides Hockey Canada with a boost as he joins other QMJHL athletes such as Jared McIsaac, Alexis Lafreniere as well as Ty Smith. Lafreniere, a star winger in Quebec, is projected No. 1 overall in this year’s NHL Draft in Montreal.

Veleno re-joins Hockey Canada after being handed a smaller role last winter, one which saw the 19-year-old limit his production to only two assists in five total games played. As well, Team Canada lost, dropping the tournament in sixth place on home ice. However, since then, Veleno has been traded, he’s also been drafted and promoted as well.

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Now a member of the American Hockey League, the Kirkland, Quebec native was selected 30th overall at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas, Texas. Since that life changing day, the Canadian forward, now one step higher, has scored three goals and nine assists in 25 games played with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

These stats, along with his numbers from last season in the QMJHL, were enough for Hockey Canada to seek interest in adding Joe Veleno to their roster for this tournament. Speaking of which, Veleno, a returning player, made last season with the Voltigeurs count, scoring 42 goals and 62 assists in 59 games played en route to the playoffs. That, however, was a step up from his first season playing in Drummondville.

With that in mind, it wasn’t the first time Veleno dominated as the Quebec-born centreman recorded 79 points in 64 games in 2017-18. While the acquisition wasn’t enough to lead Drummondville on to the postseason, it was enough for a leap in the standings which saw the Voltigeurs rise up significantly.

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Veleno, at this time, is still awaiting his NHL debut, however, a loan from the Red Wings to Hockey Canada was just as good news as he could have hoped for. Obviously it will be nothing new, however, this tournament will come with its challenges with eight draft eligible players all vying for roster spots.

While practices opened on Monday with another round taking place on Tuesday, Veleno, a last minute invite, will join the group for exhibition games on Wednesday and Thursday. As part of the four-day selection camp, Hockey Canada has scheduled two matches which will see the U-Sports All-Stars take on Team Canada at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex.

While Team Canada’s roster consists of 31 players from around the country, it’s one constructed by Dale Hunter, his brother Mark Hunter and head coach Brad McEwen. After practice wrapped up on Tuesday, McEwen met with the local media where he said when asked about the build of Team Canada’s roster which includes four frenchman, “When we put the roster together, it was more about the best players and what we felt that they were the best players for the right time and this is now. I’m not so concerned about the age as the type of players that they are.”

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This includes the idea of Alexis Lafreniere who is currently working his way back from injury. However, he is not the only Quebec based player who is in this position. Jared McIsaac of the Halifax Mooseheads is also in limbo as he recovers from surgery. Speaking of which, the 19-year-old defensemen met with the media after skating on Tuesday and when asked about what his status is after being sidelined for the last five months, he said, “You know, it’s going to take a little bit for me to get completely back to 100% game shape and yeah it’s part of the process.”

Connor McMichael, a product of Hunter, is currently leading the OHL in scoring and as a player who constantly works hard and is used to meeting a certain expectation level, the 18-year-old centreman said to the media, “Not every player comes into camp and can be a top-six scoring forward. So, I mean he just wants me to adapt into a different role and hopefully if I can’t make a top-six role, hopefully crack into the bottom-six.”

Being named to the World Juniors roster is no ordinary day for the CHL’s youth and while McMichael is used to playing under Dale Hunter who instills grit and confidence, it’s not the same story for first time players such as Braden Schneider. Schneider met with the media to discuss the honour of being invited and when asked about the emotion that goes into taking the ice for a tournament of this kind, he said, “It kind of builds up and builds up until you get here and you realize that you’re here and you have a chance to represent the World Juniors.”

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McIsaac, on Team Canada’s defence, is just one of several players out at this time and when asked about the precautions that both he and Team Canada are taking with his injury, he said, “Obviously, you know, wanted to make sure I’m ready for this camp. You know, like I said I feel really good and I can’t wait to get it started.”

When speaking further to on-ice production and how Dale Hunter sees it from his role on the bench, Connor McMichael, an NHL draftee, said to the media after Tuesday night’s practice, “It’s just work your hardest. He likes guys that obviously can play anywhere in the lineup.”

That standard also goes for McEwen who, alike Dale Hunter, has been travelling the country to get an idea of what it is they are looking for when the World Juniors get underway in Czech Republic. As far as formation details go, the head scout then closed in saying, “Right now our goal is to get our team pretty much set by the end Thursday.”

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In other news and notes from day two of selection camp on Tuesday, Alexis Lafreniere of the Oceanic Rimouski was held back from practice for a second straight day. According to Mark Hunter, who is the GM for Hockey Canada, the star-winger from Saint-Eustache is dealing with some bumps and bruises and is day-to-day. Rather than hitting the ice along with his teammates for day two of practice, the 18-year-old was seen on the bike, getting in a workout for the purpose of strength building.

As well, Aidan Dudas, who was selected despite his injury, did not take part in full team practices, but instead, much like Lafreniere, took part in workouts. As cited by Sam Cosentino, CHL analyst for Sportsnet.ca, the L.A. Kings draftee was kept off the ice in order to keep his legs in game shape. Dudas is currently the captain of the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack whom he suffered a wrist injury with against Kitchener and will not play in either game on Wednesday or Thursday against the U-Sports All-Stars.

The injury bug seems to be one that is biting at the wrong time for Team Canada and for this reason, Connor Zary was named to Team Canada’s roster in replacement of Jakob Pelletier from the Moncton Wildcats. According to Sam Cosentino of Sportsnet, Hockey Canada was looking for a player who presents the same traits in similarity to Pelletier. With that in mind, the Blazers centreman fit right in as he’s viewed, not only by his team, but by the Hunter’s, as a hard-nosed athlete who is competitive and skilled. As well, Connor Zary, 18, was described as detailed in both ends of the rink.

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Zary, a Saskatoon native, joins Hockey Canada with a sense of familiarity as he took part in the U18 World Juniors in which he recorded seven points in seven games. Speaking of joining Team Canada, the group has looked at the possibility of adding Noah Dobson and Barrett Hayton and while Dobson is currently up at the NHL level with the New York Islanders, the organization remains optimistic that he will be made available to the club on a loan.

As for what’s available in goaltenders, Team Canada currently has four backstops currently active on the roster in Oakville, this list consisting of Hunter Jones, Olivier Rodrigue, Joel Hofer and Nico Daws. When speaking about the options and how a situation of this kind may work, Jones briefly told Cosentino, “There’s not really a go-to guy right now.” It’s certainly a difficult choice given the stellar performance of Nico Daws with the Storm, however, there’s also the matter of Jones being on pace to break the Petes franchise single season record for wins.

At this time, such a feat in Peterborough currently belongs to Rick Laferriere. Laferriere had 38 wins with the Peterborough Petes, a record which he compiled back in 1979-1980. That aside, it’s a tough choice to make, one that the Hunter brothers will surely address. Speaking of things to address, Mark Hunter was asked about the team’s early identity and with regards to the players compiled, the Hockey Canada general manager said he expects his team to be hard-working, with good speed. Additionally, he expects his defence to be solid, mobile, puck-moving and to play with speed.

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Speed is a heavy category that his brother Dale and McEwen have been looking at as they traveled the country in November to coach and scout the yearly annual CIBC Canada Russia Series. On the OHL side, the tournament was played at The Aud in Kitchener and Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario.

With Dale Hunter drawn in as bench boss after doing so in November across the country, his brother Mark, the team’s general manager, was asked to describe the type of coach Dale is. In response to the inquiry, the OHL executive told Cosentino that he’s calm, respected, has a presence, not in-your-face and he makes his point with ice-time.

The question being asked the most is when will Canada start trimming their roster and as cited by Sportsnet, it’s seen as unlikely that any cuts will be made before Thursday. It won’t be in a three-game format as exhibition games once were for selection camp, but the two games scheduled will allow the Hunter brothers to fairly assess and evaluate each player. With that being said, games get underway on Wednesday in Oakville with puck drop scheduled for 5:00pmET which can be seen on TSN.ca.

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General admission is priced at $15 or $25 if attending both games with the second of two games taking place on Thursday at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex at 2:00pmET. Again, this game can be seen via online stream at TSN.ca. In closing, Braden Schneider would say after Tuesday night’s practice to the local media, “No matter what level it is, it’s always fun. It’s always. big opportunity. It’s everything you want to be doing at this time of the year.”

Team Canada last won the World Juniors in 2017 in Buffalo, New York when they defeated the United States in an outdoor contest at New Era Field. As a result, the Canadians have combined for a grand total of 31 medals, this achievement dating back to 1977 which also includes 17 gold medals won. Hockey Canada goes for No. 18 when they arrive in Ostrava and Trinec in just two weeks time.

The World Juniors get underway on Thursday December 26th when Hockey Canada takes on the U.S. at Ostravar Aréna to open the tournament. The holiday clash can be seen across TSN and on TSN.ca, meanwhile, it can be streamed using TSN GO and TSN Direct.

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