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Prospects Honored With WJC Camp Invites

by Samantha Rogan / Colorado Avalanche

Two Colorado Avalanche prospects might be heading back to the World Junior Championship after being named to training camp rosters for their respective countries. University of Denver sophomore defenseman Will Butcher and Owen Sound Attack rear guard Chris Bigras will be looking to make an impression during the run up to the big tournament.

ColoradoAvalanche.com recently spoke with both about the honor of the camp invite.


USA

USA Hockey recently announced the 30 players selected to the preliminary roster for the 2015 U.S. National Junior Team. Among those invited to attend Team USA’s training camp is Avalanche prospect Will Butcher, who was drafted by Colorado in the fifth round (123rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.

Will Butcher

“It’s a great honor,” said Butcher, when asked about being named. “It’s always special to represent your country and to participate in an event like this, especially around Christmastime and New Year’s. It’s a pretty big deal, and just to play for your country is something special that people always dream of doing when they were little.”

Currently in his second season with the University of Denver Pioneers, Butcher has previous experience playing for USA Hockey as well. He participated in the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., from 2011-2013 and has represented his country at several international tournaments. He has recorded 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 23 career appearances at major international events.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound blueliner, currently tied for third in scoring among DU defensemen, is one of seven camp invitees who were members of the 2014 U.S. National Junior Team. Butcher said he hopes his prior experience with Team USA will help him develop a leadership role heading into training camp this year.

“I’m hoping to bring a veteran presence to camp,” he said. “I’ve already been through it once before, but it’ll be a different environment playing in Canada this year; it will be a little more hostile. I think being a veteran guy, some of the younger guys might look up to me and the other older guys. I’ve played with a lot of these guys and I’m familiar with them, so it’s a pretty cool experience.

“I would definitely be comfortable taking on a leadership role if that’s what the team decides or what the coaches decide. I think that would be a positive thing for myself and I would definitely like to do that.”

Butcher is expecting a competitive but fun environment in Boston, similar to what he experienced at training camp last year.

“Last year we played in Mankato [Minnesota] and this year we’re in Boston,” Butcher said. “I think it’ll be a little different atmosphere, obviously being on the East Coast. Last year was pretty relaxed, so I’ll probably look for the same this year. I’ll just go out there and play my game and have some fun with it.”

When asked about what skills or talents are necessary to earn a roster spot with the team, Butcher said: “Leadership is a big one and just being a team player no matter what. I think they’re looking to build a team that is capable of winning a gold medal. They might not necessarily take the most skilled guys as possible, but they’re going to take the guys that they think will give them the best chance to win the gold medal, and hopefully I’ll be one of them.”

Butcher said he believes his past experience at international events and his composure on the ice are two strong assets he can bring to America’s roster.

“I’d like to offer a leadership role like I said before, being an older guy playing back there,” Butcher said. “I’m poised with the puck, I can make plays and I try to be that fourth forward in the game for our team.”

The experience Butcher gained from participating in the World Junior Championship last year can only help him in knowing what to expect from the competition this year.

“The guys are a lot more skilled and a lot better at managing the puck. They can make plays and they’re able to make a play every shift. It’s pretty neat to sit back and watch it if you watch other games during the tournament,” said Butcher. “It’s a little bit different style of play than college hockey, but for the most part college hockey gets the job done and helps to get you ready for these kinds of things.

“I’ve played against other countries in these types of events for a couple years now. This will be my fourth year doing it. I think it’s always neat playing different countries, and seeing other guys you’ve played against growing up and representing their own home country is something neat. It’s a pretty cool experience that you can take with you for the rest of your life.”

Butcher is excited to see his fellow camp invitees in the coming weeks, and has only one thing in mind when asked what he’s looking forward to the most at this year’s tournament: “Winning a gold medal.”

Training camp runs from Dec. 16-19 in Boston at Walter Brown Arena on the Boston University campus.


Canada

Hockey Canada also announced this past week the 29 players invited to attend Canada’s 2015 National Junior Team selection camp. Among them is Avalanche prospect Chris Bigras, who was drafted by Colorado in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.

Chris Bigras

“It’s a huge excitement,” said Bigras, when asked about being named. “I’m extremely honored to be able to have another kick at the can. Hopefully we can have a better outcome this year and come back with a gold medal.”

Bigras is one of seven potential returning players, as he was a member of Canada’s roster during the 2014 World Junior Championship. He said he hopes his experience at last year’s tournament will help him know what to expect heading into this year.

“I’m going to try to use my experience to my advantage and use my knowledge of the tournament from last year and try to pass that along to others as well,” he said.

When asked about last year’s selection camp, Bigras said: “It was high intensity and very competitive. It will probably be much of the same again this year. We’ll be trying to learn the systems as quickly as possible and get some chemistry going.”

The 6-foot-1, 189-pound defenseman is currently in his fourth season with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. He has 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 28 games played thus far, which ranks first among Attack defensemen and third in overall team scoring. He’s also in a three-way tie for second in scoring among all OHL defensemen.

Bigras said he believes his offensive abilities can help Team Canada, as his previous experience at the tournament taught him which skills are necessary to earn a roster spot with the team.

“I’m a mobile, puck handling defenseman, and I’ll be able to jump up into the play and help out offensively,” Bigras said. “This year I hope I can play a bigger role than in previous years.

“I think being able to play hard and learning to play within the systems as quick as possible is extremely important in short-term events like this. If everyone is on the same page we should be able to do that and have success.”

The experience Bigras gained from last year’s World Junior Championship also gives him a better idea of what to expect from opposing teams at the tournament this year.

“I think knowing the style of play some of the other teams use and knowing the tournament format will be helpful,” he said. “In such a short term event, you have to be able to come together as a team and know that every game and every shift is extremely important.

“The games are extremely intense and fast. It’s fun to watch for the fans, and it’s just exciting to be back and be a part of this.”

With Canada hosting the 2015 World Junior Championship this year, Bigras has an extra incentive to play well in selection camp, as earning a roster spot on the team would also mean getting a chance to play in his home country.

“It would be unbelievable,” said Bigras. “The fan support from last year all the way in Malmö [Sweden] was almost overwhelming, so playing in Canada would be something else. It would be a huge honor, and just being on the home soil and playing in front of the home crowd would be unbelievable.”

Selection camp runs from Dec. 11-15 in Toronto, Ontario.

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