While the national team’s first scrimmage on Saturday didn’t see the result that Team Red had been hoping for, it did give the players a chance to get their feet back under them while battling in Red Deer.
For many, that also meant their first game action since play was suspended due to COVID-19. While this was the case for majority of them, a handful on Team Canada’s roster had also returned in Quebec and the maritimes. Among those include Jakob Pelletier, Samuel Poulin, Mavrik Bourque and Justin Barron.
Anticipating games all week long, the first match at Westerner Park Centrium was designed as a chance to let them shake off some rust. As well, it would allow Andre Tourigny to get a better idea as to where his team stands. While Team Red struggled more than Team White, it was the ending that mattered despite falling 4-2.
Trailing Team White 3-0 with three minutes left in the game’s middle frame, it was Justin Barron who would get Team Red going with thanks to a pass off the stick of Pelletier. Applying pressure late with a line change, he’d unload from the point and bank it right past Brett Brochu.
While what followed simply wasn’t enough, the former first-round pick made sure to make his mark known. For Barron, the World Junior Championships marks a wavering light at the end of a dark tunnel. Just last season, he was battling blood clots, which limited his play to only 34 games.
Following a procedure in September, the right-handed shooter has a new lease on life. “You know what, I’m really happy to be here, it’s a huge honour for me to be here and, yeah, no, I’m really thankful, I was surrounded by a lot of good people in, you know, the last 12 months, and you know, I was able to get the whole blood clot situation looked after and I’m 100 percent now, back and healthy, so I’m really thankful for that, yeah, no, it just feels great to be back playing and back healthy, 100 percent.”
At 19-years-old, being named to Selection Camp is the second big feat he can cross off his bucket list. Back in October, the native of Halifax was picked by the Avalanche 25th overall. It was four days into the new season when he heard his name called while surrounded by family. Since then, he’s had one task to fill; playing the game he loves most to the best of his potential.
That’s what earned him an invite to Team Canada’s bubble to take part in Selection Camp. While much different from any other season, he took part in eight games before joining the National Team. Headed into his final year of junior, the 2001 birthday of what he is focused on, “I would like to add a little bit to the offensive side of my game … I would like to bring more pucks to the net … I want to have a better plan and not be scared to use my body and take that puck to the net and attack it more.”
With only one goal to show for it, that objective remains a work in progress for now. However, returning to the ice before Selection Camp, he understands his reality in comparison to his teammates. “Yeah, I think all the Q guys have a little bit of an advantage just playing games and getting back in game shape and just getting back up to speed playing games. I think practice is one thing, but games are a whole other thing, so yeah, it was good for the Q guys, who I think had a little bit of an advantage tonight, but I think it was good for everyone to get back and start playing some games here, and yeah, I thought overall, the compete level and the flow of the game was pretty wild given it’s a lot of guys’ first games in quite a while.”
Along with him, Bourque, Poulin and Pelletier are Hendrix Lapierre, Dawson Mercer and Lukas Cormier. While comfort and chemistry are key, Barron realizes the talent he’s up against and will be competing against to lock up a roster spot. Speaking to the media postgame, he said of the defence and knowing who he’s working with, “Yeah, I think, we have seven defensemen on each team, so I think it’s a little bit of an adjustment, you know, playing with different guys each shift, but I think at a camp like this, where, you know, there’s a ton of good players, everyone’s a high skill level, I think it makes it a little bit easier to get comfortable with guys and everyone here can make plays, all good players, so yeah, I think that’s a huge help in playing with a lot of different guys.”
Realizing it’s no small thing to be apart of this camp with other players alike him, Barron sees the picture glass full while discussing the aspects of his own game that got him there. “Yeah, I think, especially in the last couple years, my defensive game has come a long way and I think going into Halifax as a 16-year-old, that was something I really focused on and I think in the last year or two, I really tried to add a little bit more offensiveness to my game, just being able to take more pucks to the net off the rush and knowing when to use my speed, and you know, beating defenders not only one-on-one, but getting pucks on net, and yeah, just using my speed in the offensive zone and using my skating in the neutral zone to hop up on the rush as well.”
Now, in the Avalanche farm system, Barron mentions that he’s styled his game after Nathan MacKinnon, a former member of the Mooseheads. He’s done so with the offensive influence, which Barron spoke further to despite a position difference. “Yeah I think a little bit. I mean, he’s a guy I’ve always watched, I was able to watch him in Halifax in junior and then obviously the last couple years in the NHL and I think the part about his game I really like his his ability to find a shot lane off the rush and using his speed to beat defenders wide and he really does a good job at using his speed, being deceptive with it and keeping his feet moving on the rush, so that’s something I’ve tried to implement into my game as well.”
While Tourigny didn’t mention him postgame, Barron spoke about the tone set on Saturday while acknowledging the ladder left to climb to the tournament. “Yeah, I mean, everyone’s here for a reason, and you know, that’s to make the team. I thought even in the practices this week, where you’re kind of competing against your own teammates, there was a lot of intensity, you know, guys are finishing their checks, they’re battling hard, so I think that’s great to see and then I think obviously it translated really well over to the game tonight, and yeah, I thought for the first game for a lot of guys in a long time, it was pretty good, and yeah, I think the intensity and battle’s only gonna pick up here as camp goes along.”
While he looks to do more damage ahead, the second game on the schedule starts at 6:00pmMT. The scrimmage between Team Red and Team White be will carried LIVE on HockeyCanada.ca. Following that, there will be one more after a break on Monday, on November 24th.
For those who are based on the east coast, that’s 8:00pmET to bring the weekend to a close. The last one, taking place on Tuesday, starts at 10:00amMT, which is 12:00pmET. Andre Tourigny and a couple of players will be made available to speak post-game on Sunday.