By Patrick King
The Canadian Hockey League dominated Hockey Canada’s list for their world junior selection camp Wednesday.
The camp roster will see 38 players attend camp in Ottawa next week. Of the 38 players attending camp, just four are not from the CHL.
The world junior championships are widely regarded as a 19-year-olds tournament but it appears as though head coach Pat Quinn’s team may be headed in a different direction. Nearly half of the players named to the camp are either 18 or 17 years old with just four returning players from last year’s gold-medal winning team named to the camp.
“We won’t select just on age and just on skill,” Quinn said Wednesday in a teleconference call.” A lot of it will be maturity and those intangible skills that become important to team building.
“It will be about maturity, I know that and let’s face it, some 18-year-olds are more mature than some at 19 or 25 or whatever it is. We can’t always know how quickly that part comes. If we’re young, that’s what we are. We still set out with the same goals.”
Quinn is familiar with many of the players at the selection camp. He was the head coach of Canada’s gold-medal winning under-18 team in April. Eleven players from the under-18 team were named to the selection camp including goaltender Jake Allen of the Montreal Juniors.
Allen was the goaltender of the tournament for Team Canada and has enjoyed a quick rise to prominence in his career as he is now widely regarded as the top goaltender in the Québec Major Junior Hockey League.
All eyes will be on Allen’s teammate in Montreal, Angelo Esposito, who will be attending his fourth camp. Esposito was cut in each of his three previous attempts at making the world junior roster and this will be his final attempt.
“(Esposito) is one of the most deserving players to be at the camp right now to get a spot,” said Al Murray, head scout for Hockey Canada. “Whether he actually gets a spot on the team or not will again depend on how he plays at the camp. Last year he came in and didn’t have a strong camp and wasn’t even close to a spot.
“He wants another opportunity but there’s no guarantee. He has to come in and impress the coaching staff and earn a spot and that is the process.”
The camp will be held in Ottawa from Dec. 11 to 15. The world junior tournament opens on Boxing Day, also in Ottawa. Canada has won the last four consecutive gold medals at the world juniors.
USA Hockey also announced their world junior roster on Wednesday. Unlike Hockey Canada, USA Hockey will not hold a selection camp for their roster. They announced their 22-man roster and will have eight players from the CHL. Those players are: goaltenders Thomas McCollum (Guelph) and Josh Unice (Kitchener), defenceman Jonathon Blum (Vancouver) and forwards Drayson Bowman (Spokane), Tyler Johnson (Spokane), Jim O’Brien (Seattle), Eric Tangradi (Belleville) and Mitch Wahl (Spokane).
Shawinigan eyes another record
The record-setting Shawinigan Cataractes are a win shy of tying another franchise record.
The QMJHL’s hottest team can equal the record for most consecutive wins on home ice after already establishing a new record for consecutive wins with 15.
The Cataractes, who remain at the top of the league’s standings this season, have won 14 consecutive games on home ice this season and have won 15 of 16 home games. The Cataractes will have the opportunity to tie the record Sunday against the Montreal Juniors, the only team to have beaten them on home ice this season.
“It’s really not something we pay attention to,” Shawinigan head coach Eric Veilleux said. “Our job is to get the kids ready for the playoffs and I think the players did talk about it briefly but it’s more a matter of us playing good games, good hockey and progressing to be ready for the big season (playoffs).”
While the team has been hot this season, posting a 24-5-0-0 record, Veilleux would like the team to improve their defensive zone coverage and allow fewer shots. His team boasts two of the top three scorers in Cédric Lalonde-McNicoll and Matthew Pistilli but would like to see his team play a more well-rounded defensive game.
“That’s very often the problem when you have skilled players up front and our job right now is to get those guys to limit the opponents with their offence,” he said.
The Cataractes will play their final game at the Aréna Jacques Plante on Dec. 18 against the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Their new rink, which is still without a name, opens its doors to the hockey team on Dec. 27 against the Montreal Juniors.
Veilleux said the team has already begun moving equipment from the gym over to the new rink. While the rink may be new to the team, Veilleux doesn’t feel as though the adjustment period will affect the team’s ability to perform on home ice.
“We did win many home games but it’s not like we didn’t win in other rinks,” he said. “It’s the same thing as adjusting when you play on the road except you’re at home so to me you’re ahead already.”
Cataractes, Voltigeurs going down to the wire
The Cataractes are looking forward to the challenge presented to them by the previously rebuilding Drummondville Voltigeurs. The two teams are in first and second in the Telus Central Division Standings, separated by just four points.
“Drummondville, I did mention it before the season started, they made some very good acquisitions and are playing some very good hockey right now,” Veilleux said. “I’m sure it’s going to be a tight race there until the end.”
As Drummondville general manager Dominic Ricard told Sportsnet.ca, the challenge of competing for the division title with one of the elite teams in the league is a welcomed opportunity for his team.
“If we want to build a winning team and if we want to build success you have to have a challenge in front of you,” he said. “Shawinigan is one of three or four of the best teams in the league and we play eight times against them. It’s a challenge for us to be able to compete with them and to be able to win against them.”
The Cataractes hold the hammer in the season series so far, winning all three games by a combined score of 18-5. The two teams will next meet on Dec. 12 in Drummondville.
Like their division-rivals, the Voltigeurs are on the brink of establishing a new franchise record. Drummondville has tied its franchise record with nine consecutive wins. They will have the opportunity to beat their record Wednesday against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
“It’s not important for us this type of stats,” Ricard said. “(Head coach) Guy Boucher and the assistant coaches work every day to make sure that all players improve themselves each day… They make sure that everybody arrives each game to compete to make sure the Voltigeurs can win. With this philosophy, you restart the process every day and it’s why we compete each game.”
The Voltigeurs were able to turn a corner after deciding to rebuild last season. The team traded away many players such as Drew Paris, Maxime Frechette and Steven Cacciotti while bringing in players such as Dany Massé, Yannick Riendeau, Patrik Prokop and Dmitry Kulikov.
As Ricard said, the experience of players such as Riendeau and Prokop, who faced each other in the league finals last season, has been invaluable to the team’s success.
“The experience in the playoffs is really important,” he said. “The other players don’t have a lot of experience in the playoffs and Prokop and Riendeau will bring that with the team.”
Spitfires turn the page on The Barn
The Windsor Spitfires will say goodbye to an old friend Thursday when they play their final game at the Windsor Arena against the Guelph Storm. The Arena has been in operation since 1924 and once housed the Detroit Red Wings for a season while the team awaited the completion of their rink, the Olympia Stadium in the 1920s.
As Windsor general manager Warren Rychel said, the departure from the rink nicknamed “The Barn” comes with mixed emotions.
“There are a lot of great memories for people in the city and the Spitfires fans in this building, seeing the teams come through, seeing the players, the great OHL action over the years,” he said. “On the other hand, we’re excited to move over to our new digs which is state of the art and beautiful.”
The Spitfires have been a dominant team on home ice this season, winning all 11 games with a chance to finish their history at the arena undefeated on the season. In addition, fans will also be anxious to see which player will score the final goal at the arena as the banners will come down from the rafters in a post-game ceremony.
“We want to (win), I mean let’s not pretend we don’t,” Rychel said when asked if there was any added pressure. “We’re going to try to win this one no question about it and it would be nice to get that win in the record books.”
The majority of the office has already been moved over to the Windsor Family Credit Union Center. As of Friday morning, the Spitfires will operate completely out of their new rink.
Cougars fire Schoneck
The Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League fired head coach Drew Schoneck on Monday.
Schoneck was in his third season with the Cougars and had led the team to the Western Conference finals just two seasons ago. Mired in a slump, general manager Dallas Thompson made the change citing the team’s 10-18-0-1 record as the reason.
“I don’t think that was the case (where the players quit on the coach),” Thompson said. “Certainly some of the media around here may have mentioned that and tried to bring that point across but there were some other things that maybe fell through the cracks that led to our on-ice lumps.”
Thompson was the interim head coach the last time his team made a coaching change three seasons ago when they fired Mike Vandekamp. Assistant coach Wade Klippenstein will take over until a replacement is found but it won’t be Thompson.
“I would really like, ideally, to have a very experienced guy that can come in,” said Thompson, who added there’s no time-frame in place to name Schoneck’s successor.
Although the Cougars are in a rebuilding phase, Thompson immediately shrugged off questions as to whether his team would be trading away some of its higher-end talent, such as world junior hopeful Dana Tyrell, for players to rebuild his team around.