Canada’s standout Tyson Jost walks unconventional path to WJC

Goals have come from players up and down the Canadian lineup at the World Junior Championship but the fire-starter has been Tyson Jost.

That is to say, Jost — a freshman at the University of North Dakota — made the big plays to open the scoring in Canada’s wins over Russia and Slovakia to open the tournament.

Looking at the final shots on goal, it might be hard to comprehend that the Canada-Slovakia game was scoreless through the first 20 minutes Tuesday night. Shots were 14-2 in Canada’s favour, and while you had a fair idea of how the game was trending, it was still naught-naught when Jost carried the puck up the ice and found the tape of Jeremy Lauzon’s stick with a neat drop pass. As the play unfolded, you weren’t sure that Jost could have picked up the trailer without a rearview mirror but there it was, Lauzon’s for the finishing as he beat the beleaguered Slovak netminder Adam Huska to put Canada up 1-0.

In this game, that was an insurmountable lead.

Thereafter, the floodgates opened and poor Huska was washed away. The final score, 5-0, doesn’t suggest how well he played. That the final shot totals were 44-6 gives you a better indication.

The drop pass to Lauzon was slick but it wasn’t a patch on the play Jost made the night before against the Russians, not in quality, not in importance.

Three minutes into the game Monday night, a well-timed pass from defenceman Philippe Myers set Jost in all alone on Russia’s Ilya Samsonov, who came into the proceedings as the most highly regarded goaltender at these under-20s. The optics weren’t promising: Samsonov is a big dude, Jost shortish and slight. But Jost beat Samsonov with a roofed backhander that looked good in real time but happened so fast that it was the rarest of goals: one that got a more appreciative roar in the arena on the replay.

That’s how he did it. Jost’s wasn’t just a simple flip shot but basically a backhand snapshot. It went upstairs in a hurry. The sequence came as a surprise to Samsonov and the Russians, no doubt. It might not have to those who watched the under-18s last spring.

Prior to the U-18s, scouts wondered about Jost and his Penticton Vees teammate Dante Fabbro. They were on the NHL’s radar, no doubt. Still, going from the BCHL to an IIHF world event was a more significant step up in class than for those playing in the CHL—at least that’s way the scouts saw it.

Jost wound up being arguably the best Canadian player at the under-18s and Fabbro was solid if somewhat less noticeable on the blue line. A fourth-place finish might have been a bit of a disappointment (especially with the Russians sending a team depleted by drug suspensions) but, no matter, Jost and Fabbro earned invitations to the under-20 summer camp. It would be a big ask to expect them to be dominant figures as 18-year-olds with 19-year-olds like Dylan Strome, Matt Barzal, and Thomas Chabot returning from the under-20s last season but Jost and Fabbro have had impact.

So far at this tournament, Jost has being playing beside Nicholas Roy, a rangy centre with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, and Fabbro beside Lauzon. Among blue liners against Slovakia, Fabbro wound up being second only to Chabot in ice time at over 18 minutes.

I spoke to Jost back in the fall when he was settling in as a freshman at the University of North Dakota, the alma mater of Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise, among others. The Colorado Avalanche had made Jost the 10th overall pick in the draft three months earlier but some in the business thought that he might be better served for preparing for the pros by playing in the WHL rather than the NCAA. Certainly the Regina Pats thought so when they acquired Jost’s WHL rights in trade from the Everett Silvertips. The CHL as a quicker avenue to the pros is conventional wisdom that’s endured despite the likes of Toews, Parise, and others.

When I mentioned this to Jost, he in turn made the different-strokes argument.

“Development is a marathon, not a sprint,” Jost said. “It’s not how fast you get there. It’s how far you get. And in terms of getting there faster, every player develops in his own way … at his own pace. I was a smaller player … physically developed later than some. The BCHL was a better fit for me. I was going to get a chance to play a lot in my two years there that I might not have had somewhere else. I was able to become a team leader and learn a lot from the experience. I think the idea of playing in a league like the BCHL and then the NCAA is something that more kids should think about.

“The WHL is good for a lot players, no doubt, but [major junior] isn’t right for everybody.”

Jost and Fabbro picked a different path than the rest of the team, which is otherwise entirely drawn from the CHL. It should be said, however, that the best players almost unfailingly know the best paths to the pros—and if they have a real shot.

That Fabbro landed with Boston University was just part of the design. He and Jost had their picks of schools coming out of Penticton. What might surprise is the fact that the Slovakian goalie Huska is also a collegian. Huska eschewed the national development program in his native country to play in the U.S., first in the USHL where he was honoured as the goaltender of the year with Green Bay, and then this season with the UConn Huskies.

Huska couldn’t go into deep detail about coming to North America and playing college hockey. “It was a choice I made and I think it’s best,” he said after the game, understandably wearily.

It was the longest night of Huska’s hockey life, and though he faced a fusillade of shots from the first minute, the real onslaught started with the Jost’s drop pass to Lauzon.

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