It’s that time of year again when snow is on the ground – or has at least fallen – in about two-thirds of NHL cities (the others rarely, if ever, see such wintry, hockey-like weather…go figure). Sleigh bells are starting to jing-jing-jingle, animated holiday classics are popping up on weekend afternoon television and the world juniors are just 10 days away.
In Canada the WJC is big news with lots of anticipation. Every year the team’s roster is debated during the summer evaluation and training camp process and then scrutinized after it’s announced prior to the tournament. This year is no different.
For the most part I have no problem with the team chosen by coach Pat Quinn and his staff. As my office neighbor Ryan Kennedy said in his blog Monday, the 2009 version of Team Canada is unlike many from yesteryear; it’s built on speed and skill, the type of squad more likely to deliver the six- and seven-goal thrashings Canadians yearn for each year, but rarely get to revel in.
That’s great. And if Canada’s “quick wrists and skates,” as Kennedy put it, lead the team to its fifth-straight gold medal, all will be right with the Canuck-centric hockey world.
But if not, one question will surely be asked: Why wasn’t Taylor Hall on the team?
Hall, the 17-year-old wunderkind, is leading the Ontario League in scoring (23 goals, 54 points in 30 games) and leading his Windsor Spitfires – the No. 2-ranked major junior team in Canada – towards a Memorial Cup berth. Last season as an OHL rookie, the left winger finished 18th in league scoring, fourth in goals and first in plus/minus. Hall will have to play his way out of the No. 1 draft position in 2010 and if he was eligible this coming June, the first-overall debate would involve three names, not just two. Granted, the WJC is generally a tournament for 19-year-olds, but exceptions have been made and Hall is already well tested – and thriving – against players two and three years his senior.
Canada keeping eight defensemen and 12 forwards – as opposed to the usual seven and 13 – makes this an especially curious case. Hall’s Windsor teammate, defenseman Ryan Ellis, is the in-between guy. He’s a power play specialist who will have to play his way into more ice time, à la John Tavares in 2008. But skill-filled Canada shouldn’t have to rely on one player to make the power play go.
Maybe it’s Pat Quinn’s perceived bias against younger players coming to the fore again. Of course, they’re all young at the WJC, but, relatively speaking, Hall would be the youngest. In the NHL, Quinn earned a reputation as a veterans’ coach, playing them – some said stubbornly – at the cost of developing young players. Is Angelo Esposito, who made the team on his fourth try, that much more ready to play than Hall? I suggest not. I’m not trying to disparage Esposito, who deserves props just for showing up at his fourth WJC camp. I just think his development has reached its apex and it’s time to move on.
Whatever the reasoning, Hall’s exclusion is disappointing. He may have the quickest wrists and skates in Canada and should have been afforded an opportunity to put them on show for the world. If Canada doesn’t win gold, many will question why he wasn’t.
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