Canada World Junior Championship Preview

Ryan Kennedy
Connor McDavid (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Connor McDavid (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

THN Predicted Finish: 2nd

It’s been four straight tournaments without a gold medal for Team Canada and the Canucks have actually been getting further from the top of the podium each year. From losing the gold in overtime in 2010, then losing it in the third period, then winning the bronze, then losing the bronze last year in Ufa, Russia, Canada needed a reboot.

The national program underwent a major overhaul in the summer, with a lot more voices contributing to the cause, many of whom are the top minds in major junior. Brent Sutter – who has never lost a game at the world juniors, let alone a gold – is back behind the bench, while distinguished minds such as Benoit Groulx, Ryan McGill, Sean Burke and Bruce Hamilton are also part of the staff. The first big change was the final camp roster, which featured just 25 players.

“It takes away a lot of the uncertainty for the players, coaches and management,” said head scout Ryan Jankowski. “We put in the effort to evaluate everyone in the summer and through the season.”

Going down to 25 by early December meant both goalies had already been picked and the sordid tradition of reporters interviewing bleary-eyed teens who had just been cut was minimized: only two forwards and a defenseman had to be jettisoned. Netminding has been a sore spot for Canada in the past few years, but Burke and fellow ex-NHL goalie Fred Brathwaite are taking ownership over Zach Fucale (Montreal, 36th overall in 2013) and Jake Paterson (Detroit, 80th in ’12).

“We are very confident in the two goalies we have,” Burke said. “At camp, we just want them to get used to their teammates. Freddy is going to be out on the ice with them to tweak their games.”

One other factor to consider with Canada is penalty trouble. The aggressive Canadian kids have often gotten into hot water in this tourney because their big hits are sometimes deemed charging or boarding by international refs, even though they wouldn’t warrant penalties back home. And with Griffin Reinhart already sitting out three games for a suspension he was given in Ufa last year, the Canadians can ill afford to have another skater banned, particularly a blueliner.

Canada has the talent to win it all, now it’s just a matter of putting it all together again.

OFFENSE
If the Canadian brass took away anything from the CHL-Russia Super Series, it’s that a ‘French Connection’ line of Jonathan Drouin, Charles Hudon and Anthony Mantha would be something else. Drouin (Tampa Bay, third in ’13) is the offensive dynamo on this Canadian team, with eyes in the back of his head and a puck magnet in his stick. Mantha (Detroit, 20th in ’13) is a goal-scoring machine with speed and size, while Hudon (Montreal, 122nd in ’12) brings talent and responsibility to the trio.

After that, Canada has a slew of excellent two-way options headlined by Scott Laughton (Philadelphia, 20th in ’12), Bo Horvat (Vancouver, ninth in ’13) and Sam Reinhart, who may go first overall in this summer’s draft. There is no shortage of talent for the penalty kill, either, while the real X-factor is Connor McDavid, pictured above. The Erie Otters phenom isn’t eligible for the NHL draft until 2015, but his preternatural ability to create offense will be a great weapon for the Canucks. The fact he won’t be needed to carry the water will also create match-up problems for the opposition.

Canada is best when it is playing with emotion, banging and crashing around the arena. Assuming the boys can play on the line without getting dinged by the referees, this particular group will give the opposition fits.

DEFENSE
The blueline is so strong for Canada that even the omission of Oilers pick Darnell Nurse wasn’t met with much outrage, especially since he’ll be available for the world juniors next year. What the Canucks do have is an excellent assortment of talent, largely from the Western League (as is tradition). The Minnesota Wild granted Mathew Dumba permission to join the team and he will be a leader on and off the ice. Given his experience and the fact he played for Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels in the WHL, Dumba will almost certainly wear a letter in Malmo, maybe even the ‘C.’

Dumba is a smooth skater who can hit hard and create offense. The beauty of this blueline is the players are not one-dimensional. Like the forward corps, this is largely a two-way group. Griffin Reinhart (New York Islanders, fourth overall in ’12) will likely take on a shutdown role once he returns from his suspension, while Damon Severson (New Jersey, 60th in ’12) proved himself to be a dogged penalty killer at the summer evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. Josh Morrissey (Winnipeg, 13th in ’13) is yet another smooth-skating D-man at the team’s disposal and he brings an edge to his game, too.

GOALTENDING
Fucale is one of the most accomplished teenage goalies in the world right now and has the skills and personality to be a difference-maker. It’s been a while since Canada has had that luxury in net. Fucale backstopped Halifax of the Quebec League to a stunning seven-game playoff series win over Quebec two years ago after Patrick Roy’s Remparts had opened up a three-games-to-none lead. For an encore, he won the QMJHL championship and the Memorial Cup the following year. In between, he was the goalie of record for Canada’s gold-medal win at the summer’s Ivan Hlinka under-18 tourney in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Positionally sound and economical in his movements, Fucale is also a cool customer off the ice, which Burke believes will bode well for the entire team, as his confidence is infectious.

In Paterson, the Canadians have an underrated netminder who has quietly gone about his business in Saginaw with the OHL’s Spirit. Paterson was the nation’s third goalie behind Malcolm Subban and Jordan Binnington in Ufa, so he’s seen the pressure cooker that is the world juniors before, but luckily hasn’t been scarred by any personal letdowns yet.

This feature originally appeared in the World Junior Preview edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.