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Connolly, Smith-Pelly surprised to be camping in Canada

by Aaron Vickers /
The Anaheim Ducks may have caught forward Devante Smith-Pelly a little off guard when the NHL club released him to participate in Hockey Canada's National Junior Team Selection Camp for the upcoming World Junior Championship.

With two of his three goals and three of his five points on the season all coming in Anaheim's last five games, the 19-year-old Smith-Pelly was starting to find his groove in the National Hockey League under new coach Bruce Boudreau.

"We did get a new coach and a lot of things did change," said Smith-Pelly, whose ice time increased under Boudreau. "I was starting to put up some points and get a little more responsibility. I was starting to get a little more confident up there with the puck and make some plays."

"Obviously you want to be up there and staying with the NHL but they told me they want me to have a bigger role here and I'm all for that and I'm excited." -- Ducks' rookie Devante Smith-Pelley on going to Canada's WJC camp
The Ducks, however, decided they wanted to see Smith-Pelly with more responsibility in an expanded role with Canada at the World Juniors.

"Obviously you want to be up there and staying with the NHL but they told me they want me to have a bigger role here and I'm all for that and I'm excited," he said.

Canada will certainly be excited to have him. Smith-Pelly jumped to the top of Canada's Christmas wish list after an eye-opening performance at Canada's Development Camp this summer.

"I'd say that's where I kind of came into my own," he said. "That camp was real important to me to be able to perform. This team was a goal of mine coming into this year and I'm glad I did well there."
In the end, the Ducks could be the biggest beneficiary of another strong performance in a Team Canada jersey from Smith-Pelly at the World Junior Championship in the form of a more assertive player upon his return.

"This could be a place for me to get a little more confident," said Smith-Pelly. "This is a chance for me to come here and make some plays that I used to make a lot in junior. Hopefully I can bring a little bit of confidence and winning ways back to Anaheim."

Brett Connolly, who was made available to team Canada on the same day as Smith-Pelly, may have been more surprised by his release from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Through 28 games this season, Brett Connolly has tallied four goals and eight points, including two game-winners for the Lightning. (Photo: Getty Images)
Though Connolly, who had 46 goals as a member of the Prince George Cougars of the WHL a year ago, has just four tallies in 28 games with Tampa Bay this season, an increased role in the NHL was expected after Martin St. Louis was hit in the face with a puck in practice this week, ending his consecutive games-played count at 499.

"I really didn't know what to expect," Connolly said. "I know they were thinking about it. When Marty went down I wasn't sure if they were still leading towards it."

Now with Canada, the talk from here on out is about the Maple Leaf on his chest, not the lightning bolt he left behind in Tampa Bay for Connolly.

"Right now I'm focused on Team Canada and Team Canada only and I'm happy to be here," Connolly said.

Connolly is now one four returning players, along with Mark Visentin, Quinton Howden and Jaden Schwartz, from Canada's silver medal entry at the 2011 World Juniors. Another opportunity to win gold, on Canadian soil no less, excites the Prince George, B.C. native.
"It's something I never did last year," Connolly said. "To be here now is exciting. I can't wait to get going. We're going to have a great team this year and we just have to come together quickly as a team and we'll be fine. We've got a lot of character guys here and it only helps with returning guys."
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