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Hockey Canada keeping tabs on pair of Flames prospects

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

Boston University defenceman Brandon Hickey hasn’t been out of mind.

He hasn’t even been out of sight.

The only collegiate invite among the 39 participants at Hockey Canada’s national junior team summer development camp in August, Hickey has had eyes on him in advance of a news conference Tuesday that will announce the players invited to participate in Canada’s National Junior Team selection camp.

The hopeful Hickey might not have known it, though.

“There are some guys that sometimes I want them to know I’m there,” Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowksi told CalgaryFlames.com. “There are other times I don’t want them to know and would rather see them without the added pressure. That’s the case more when I see different guys in different environments. I didn’t let Hickey know yet I did tell his coach. There may have been a message put to Brandon that I was there.

“Whether or not, it doesn’t really make a difference and sometimes I wonder if I’m there it’s some added pressure not unlike the World Juniors. In this case I don’t know if he knew I was there. Nine times out of 10 I don’t wait around to see the guys because it’s still an awkward period where they’re trying to make a team and trying to impress so I don’t need to put any undo stress by sticking around and talking to them after.”

Whether he knew it or not, Hickey’s audition came two weekends ago in a double-header with Michigan. Boston University beat Michigan 3-2 on Nov. 20, but fell 4-2 a day later.

The 19-year-old was held without a point on the weekend, was even with two shots, and two blocked shots, keeping his totals at four goals and six points in 14 games this season.

“What’s happening with his team now is he’s playing a ton, he’s playing in every situation,” Jankowski detailed. “It’s obviously a lot different from last year when they were a National championship team, a highly ranked team through the year. He came in as a freshman and was real simple, real effective, real solid. This year he’s jumping more, he’s pushing the envelope more, jumping into the rush, which non-first year players tend to do. That can be good and bad. It’s good from an offensive standpoint.

“With jumping all the time, you do leave your requirements in the defensive zone. We find that it doesn’t matter if you’re playing NCAA, doesn’t matter if you’re playing major junior that the older the players get, the more they get away with.”

Jankowski’s synopsis was a snapshot of what’s new this season in Hickey’s game.

The decision as to whether or not he’ll earn a try-out opportunity will come from a bigger picture.

“You have to take a cross-section,” he said. “What we’ve really tried to do of late is focus on a body of work. We don’t want to be too recent with all of our evaluations on a player because that’s how you make mistakes. You don’t want to be too heavy into what they do in the summer because it’s summer hockey.

“What you have to do is look at the last two years, their whole work. My viewings on him last year, even my viewings on him as a 17-year-old in Spruce Grove, coupled with these viewings here, you take the whole body of work and that’s really how we want to make our decisions, not just on him but any player.

“When we look at a player for World Juniors, we almost have to go back to the basics. We are almost like an NHL team where we’re projecting what they might be for us, and may end up playing a different role than they play with their club team. But you’re trying to get a good handle on their skill set, their abilities, and their makeup as a player.”

Hickey isn’t the only Flames prospect Hockey Canada has had eyes on.

Charlottetown Islanders goaltender Mason McDonald, one of three goalies at Canada's summer camp, has been closely watched, too.

“Freddy (Brathwaite) for the most part has been heavily involved in watching Mason,” Jankowski said. “He’s been real comfortable with where he’s at in his game. His team is not a great hockey team right now. They didn’t get Daniel Sprong back yet and that’s really kind of changed the complexion of their team and are really trying to find their way with the group of players they have, which means Mason sees a lot of shots, sees a lot of action, which is good.

“He’s certainly getting the work in that’s needed. From an overall standpoint, I think Fred’s been very comfortable with what he’s seen all year.”

McDonald represented Team Atlantic at the World Under-17 Challenge in 2013, and backstopped Canada at the World Under-18 Championship in 2014, posting a 1.94 GAA and .930 save percentage en route to being named the tournament’s top goaltender and helping Canada to bronze.

He also won gold with Canada’s 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup entry as backup to Julio Billia

With his resume and international history, chatter about McDonald potentially starting at the World Juniors was at the forefront of Canada’s summer camp, and through the opening months of the Canadian Hockey League schedule it hasn’t subsided.

“There hasn’t been a lot of change with that,” Jankowski said of McDonald, who sports a 7-8-2 record with a 3.45 GAA and .893 save percentage with Charlottetown this season.

“He’s been one of our top goalies in the 1996 age group, which certainly bodes well for him. He played well in the summer. He performed fairly well to start the year. I don’t think his Canada-Russia game was excellent, and yet we’ve seen that before. It’s one game. We don’t want to evaluate based on one game.

“To say that a roster spot is his to lose might be a little bit aggressive, but in saying that he’s put himself in a pretty good position here.”

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