Fan Fuel: WHL style of play may be key in Team Canada’s WJHC roster

December 5, 2012, 6:35 PM


Hockey Canada officially announced its invitees to the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship selection camp on Monday afternoon. Of the 37 invited players, 12 are from the Western Hockey League (including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and this doesn’t include defenceman Ryan Murray who was a lock prior to getting injured.

The style of play in the West differs from that in the Ontario or Quebec Major Junior leagues. As opposed to the great finesse attained by OHL and QMJHL players, those in the West play a more hard-nosed, grinding type of game. That is not to say players from the WHL do not have finesse or strong skating, because many do, but the game is much tighter and physical, so players must be well rounded to survive.

Now the WHL’s overall success in making the team will really come down to what Team Canada wants to do to the opposition. Should they want to out skate and beat teams with pure skill, the big bodies of the Dub may not make the squad, but if they want to wear down opponents and make them tired come the third period or even later on in the tournament, players from the West, especially the defencemen, should have a good shot at making the cut.

Let’s start from the crease and out. Of the four invitees to camp, goaltender Laurent Brossoit of the Edmonton Oil Kings was the only one not from the OHL. Brossoit is pretty much a lock to make the team, as Canada will be taking three goaltenders to Russia with them come Boxing Day. This is in case one of the three gets injured and one can be an emergency replacement. Although three are brought, only two can officially be named to the roster. Now Brossoit is going to have a hard time knocking of Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls (OHL) for the starting job, but he stands a good shot at playing backup. Brossoit proved himself against Russia in the Subway Super Series and sits with a 2.56 GAA and .904 save percentage. Not the best of numbers, but when it comes to clutch situations, Brossoit finds a way to win, which is exactly what Team Canada looks for.

On the back end, of the seven spots available on Team Canada, the WHL is sending five d-men to camp. One definite lock for the team is Morgan Rielly. Rielly, the fifth overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, has impressed every time he has touched the ice this season. He has incredible skating skills, as well as a strong hockey IQ and unbelievable puck possession and protection. Barring injury, Rielly will be on Team Canada.

Apart from Morgan Rielly, none of the other WHL invitees are guaranteed a spot on the team. Griffin Reinhart, Derrick Pouliot, Tyler Wotherspoon, and Matthew Dumba make up the rest of the invitees from the West. Both Dumba and Reinhart bring strong physical and defensive games to the ice, while Wotherspoon and Pouliot are more offensively gifted. Reinhart and Dumba would make the team if Canada wants to wear opponents down, but if they want more two way players on the back end Wotherspoon and Pouliot should have a shot.

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Up front there is a mess of competition. It appears that the top six forward spots will be filled by returning players, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins if cleared to play, and previously NHL drafted players that would not be available should there be no NHL lockout. It is going to be a battle for the bottom six forward positions as well as the 13th forward that Canada often brings to the World Juniors.

Ty Rattie of the Portland Winterhawks stands the best chance among WHLers of making this year’s team. Rattie is among the leaders in points in the Dub at 42, and brings one of the best overall games. With his strong offensive abilities, Rattie is a very good two-way forward which is primarily what Canada counts on in the WJHC.

The other invitees will all be bubble players, the ones who have to prove their worth at camp and beat out players from the other CHL leagues. This includes Medicine Hat Tigers captain Hunter Shinkaruk, Mark McNeill of the Prince Albert Raiders, Colton Sissons of the Kelowna Rockets and quite possibly the surprise player of the year in JC Lipon of the Kamloops Blazers. If Lipon continues the streak he is on as the number two among CHL scorers with 55 points on the year, and a true speedster and weapon on the ice. Meanwhile Shinkaruk, and Sissons are similar players, but their size could hurt them in camp. McNeill brings a big body and strong two-way presence to Team Canada and could make the team as that 13th forward.

Whatever head coach Steve Spott of the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) decides the style of play he wants will really decide how many WHL invitees make the final roster.

Historically the teams that have been able to outhit and rough up opponents all while still putting pucks in the net, have done better than teams trying to win purely on skill. This is why more of these WHL players would be beneficial to the team, but time will tell what Spott and Canada’s management want to go with. Either way, in a lockout year, Canada should return to its highest level and recapture the illusive gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship.

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