KAMLOOPS B.C. — Tim Hunter wasn’t going to lie.
The head coach of Team Canada wasn’t about to call out any of his World Junior hopefuls after a couple of games of summer hockey here in B.C.’s interior. But, he wasn’t going to blow any smoke either.
Especially about a guy like Morgan Frost, who has zero points through three games at the World Junior Showcase, and did not stand out in a 4-1 win over Sweden Friday night at the home of the Kamloops Blazers, the Sandman Centre.
“He’s in a group of guys who all kind of look the same,” Hunter said when asked about Frost, the Philadelphia first-rounder who plays his junior hockey in Sault Ste. Marie. “He and (Barrett) Hayton, and (Shane) Bowers — they all kind of look like the same player right now. We want to find out who’s going to step to the forefront over the next few months.”
So we asked Frost what that kind of assessment meant to him, with one game remaining here, an afternoon tilt against the United States on Saturday.
“It’s an opportunity,” Frost said. “You’ve got to take what he’s saying and run with it. Try and make an impression, do the right things to make the team.”
It’s a funny time to be one of these Canadian kids like Frost, whose father Andy was the public address announcer from 1999-2016 at the Toronto arena formerly known as the Air Canada Centre. On one hand, the chance to play for Canada at the World Juniors is precious. And at age 19, this is the Aurora, Ont., native’s final opportunity to pull on a Hockey Canada sweater at a WJHC.
On the other hand, his next big challenge will come this September in Philly, where he will attend his second Flyers camp after being drafted 27th overall in 2017. Any 19-year-old first-rounder is expected to push for a roster spot at his second camp, even if the ultimate success in Philadelphia — making the Flyers — means he could erase his own World Junior dreams.
“Everyone grows up admiring, dreaming of play in this tournament,” Frost said. “It’s a balance. You want to make the jump to the NHL as quickly as possible, but to have this opportunity is super special. I’d love to represent this team.
“(That this is his last chance) makes it that much more important. It’s a little weird to think about, but I’m thankful to be in the position I am and have a chance to make this team.”
Canada’s World Juniors begin Boxing Day in Vancouver, with the other pool taking place in Victoria. This past January, Greyhounds teammates Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh returned to the Soo with WJHC gold medals, and tales of victory.
Next January, Frost wants to be that guy.
“Those guys were some of my best friends on the team.,” he said. “I just tried to learn as much as I could, and they shared how special it was, and just what a great feeling it was to win a gold medal. I‘ve just got to chase that feeling. Hopefully, I can do the same thing.”
Like a handful of hopefuls battling for spots, Frost will have to adjust his game. Being a star on your junior team is one thing, but playing the team game required by Hunter and his staff is quite another. It’s a lesson meted out every year by Team Canada, and not all players pass the test.
“We know he’s got speed. He’s shown his skill,” Hunter said of Frost. “This is new for him, some of the little details and the mindset of how we’re playing. He hasn’t had to play with those details with his club team. We’re seeing how he reacts to that.”
Being Andy’s boy afforded Frost many trips to NHL practices that your average Aurora kid didn’t get. But being a little kid looking for a signed puck is one thing. Walking into an NHL building as an actual NHL player — or a member of Team Canada at Rogers Arena in Vancouver this Christmas — is quite another.
“You got to spend a lot of time around the rink, for sure. Even just having (his father) as an influence, being around so many hockey people that I met through him is vital to becoming the player that I am today,” Frost said.
Does he feel like he belongs in an NHL rink?
“Uh,” he paused, “it’s still breathtaking when you walk in an NHL rink. It’s the same feeling every time you walk into an NHL rink.
“A surreal feeling.”