BURLINGTON, Ont. — Canada’s world junior team cut nine players and added one big piece Thursday.
The national program released forwards Dylan Holloway, Peyton Krebs, Alex Newhook, Cole Perfetti and Connor Zary, while defencemen Peter Diliberatore, Thomas Harley and Braden Schneider, as well as goaltender Hunter Jones, were also sent packing.
That leaves Canada with 24 players, including Barrett Hayton, who gave the program a big boost earlier in the day when it was announced the Arizona Coyotes were making the 19-year-old centre available for the tournament.
The team will need to cut at least one more forward before the world junior hockey championship opens Dec. 26 in the Czech Republic.
Complicating matters further is the uncertain status of Chicago Blackhawks centre Kirby Dach and New York Islanders defenceman Noah Dobson. Both are eligible to play, but currently remain with their NHL clubs.
“Every day we evaluate where we’re at,” Mark Hunter, who’s leading Canada’s management group, said at the team’s hotel west of Toronto. “It’s something we have to get a read on.”
As it stands now after Hayton’s addition, Canada’s roster includes forwards Quinton Byfield, Dylan Cozens, Ty Dellandrea, Aidan Dudas, Nolan Foote, Liam Foudy, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Alexis Lafreniere, Raphael Lavoie, Connor McMichael, Dawson Mercer, Akil Thomas and Joe Veleno.
The defence corps is currently made up Calen Addison, Kevin Bahl, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Bowen Byram, Jamie Drysdale, Jared McIsaac and Ty Smith, while Canada’s three goalies will be Nico Daws, Joel Hofer and Olivier Rodrigue.
Hunter said no players have been told whether or not they’re on the bubble.
“We want to build a team,” he said. “To build a team, they’ve got to feel a part of it.”
Byfield and Drysdale, both 17, made the cut, while the undrafted Daws had never been invited to a Hockey Canada event before this week’s selection camp in nearby Oakville.
Hofer has also barely been on the radar before this season.
“These two goalies have had great years,” Hunter said. “Their teams have been winning games, and they’ve been one of the main reasons.”
Seven of the nine players released by Canada will get another shot next year, but this is the end of the road for Diliberatore and Jones.
“It’s definitely kind of a hard time,” said an emotional Diliberatoe. “But at the same time … I was able to wear the Maple Leaf on the front of my chest.
“It was an honour.”
Jones was equally rocked by the news, but happy for Daws, who has been lights out this season for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.
“It’s hard to swallow,” Jones said. “It’s pretty nerve wracking up there in the hotel room when you’re waiting with one of your good buddies that you train with in the summer. You’re praying that you don’t get the knock on the door and you’re hoping that you both can move forward and be on the team together.
“I’m really proud of Nico.”
The message from most of the other players was that they’ll come back stronger following this bitter pill.
“It’s tough getting the call,” said Zary, a late injury addition after Jakob Pelletier went down late last week. “It’s disappointing, but there’s a lot of good players here.”
The fifth overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft, Hayton has one goal and three assists in 14 games with Arizona this season.
The Peterborough, Ont., native was part of the Canadian setup that wound up a disappointing sixth at last year’s world juniors in Vancouver and Victoria, finishing the under-20 tournament with four assists in five games.
“He’s a top-end guy and he’s been playing up,” head coach Dale Hunter said after the second of Canada’s two exhibition games against a team of university all-stars earlier Thursday. “He’s a great leader.”
The national team is scheduled to fly to Vienna this weekend to continue preparations before exhibition contests Dec. 19 against Switzerland and Dec. 23 against the Finns.
Canada has won gold at the world juniors 17 times since 1977, with the last victory coming at the 2018 event in Buffalo, N.Y.
Hayton’s addition comes after the Detroit Red Wings said Monday they would release Veleno — another centre and a fellow veteran of last year’s Canadian team currently playing with the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins.
Veleno, who’s scheduled to join his teammates in Europe closer to the start of the tournament, Hayton, Smith, McIsaac and Lafreniere were all part of the 2019 squad. Dudas (finger) and Lafreniere (ankle) were limited this week with injuries.
“When you get veterans back that played before, it just means so much,” Dale Hunter said. “They can talk to the young guys about the pressures of playing, what it’s like, and what the competition’s all about.
Canada invited 31 players to this week’s selection camp in Oakville, but with both Veleno and Hayton in the mix, the number stood at 33 names before the cuts came down.
“It’s no fun,” Dale Hunter said of delivering bad news. “They’re kids and they all want to play, but that’s the hard part about the job.”