The Tampa Bay Lightning reportedly have released rookie left wing Brett Connolly to Team Canada, allowing the 19-year-old to play in the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Connolly, who earned a spot on Tampa Bay's roster with a strong training camp, has four goals and eight points in 27 games this season. Multiple media reports said he will head to Calgary for the start of Team Canada's training camp on Sunday. The tournament begins Dec. 26 with games taking place in Calgary and Edmonton.
Connolly, the sixth player chosen in the 2010 NHL Draft, played for Team Canada at last year's tournament, winning a silver medal. But playing on Canadian soil will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, according to Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who was an assistant with Team Canada in 2009 when the tournament was played in Ottawa.
"I can't even express what he is going to live there," Boucher said. "He's going to live something that is just out of this world. People are just crazy in Canada for hockey. There is so much pressure on Canada, you are not allowed to lose. You can lose at whatever, but you can't lose at hockey, especially in junior. So it's going to be a great moment for him to live that pressure and be one of the top guys. And that's an incredible experience for him for the future because he's going to be able to take more pressure and the toughest moments. That's what you get out of (playing for) Team Canada."
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said once the tournament is over, Connolly will return to the team and resume his spot on the roster.
"I don't see it as a step back," Yzerman told the St. Petersburg Times. "It's important for these young guys to play in these big events in pressure games. They make you better. We still want him here, but what's best for Brett Connolly in the long run is best for us all. I'm confident this is the right thing for him."