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First impressions duly noted

by Dan Rosen

Travis Hamonic suprised coach Benoit Groulx with his exceptional play.
OTTAWA – Most of the names he won’t reveal just yet, but after three feisty games and four hard days at Canada’s National Junior Team Evaluation Camp, you better believe coach Benoit Groulx has an idea of what players could play for him in the World Junior Championships come December.

“We have many things in the back of our mind right now, but it’s pretty early to talk about it because there are so many question marks of who is going to stay in the NHL and who is going to be back,” Groulx said following Team Red’s 4-2 victory in the rubber match of the three-game intra-squad series Tuesday night. “It’s no secret for anybody that guys like Luke Schenn, John Tavares and those guys have a good shot at making our team. They were on the team last year, so obviously they have a good shot, but we’re not going to go further because there are too many question marks.”

Question marks aside, Groulx and the Hockey Canada staff are supremely pleased because the evaluation camp has unfolded exactly how they hoped it would.

Some players, such as 17-year-old Nazem Kadri, surprised Groulx. Most played up to expectations. No one took their name out of the running for a roster spot. Every one competed hard. The games were tight and intense, and a few rivalries blossomed.

“The main goal was to get to know them better, especially on the ice, and we feel we reached that goal here,” Groulx said. “I have a much better idea of who is Nazem Kadri and (Travis) Hamonic and those guys. It’s good for us to have a clear idea of who they are and how they play.”

The second step in the evaluation process will play out during the next four months. Groulx and his staff will scout and evaluate each of the 44 players that were in camp, as well as others who didn’t even earn an invite as they play the first half of their regular seasons in the Canadian Hockey League, the NCAA or perhaps even the NHL.

The next camp won’t be held until early December, after which final cuts will be made in order to finalize the 22-man roster Groulx will take to Ottawa for the tournament as Canada goes for a fifth-straight gold medal.

“We’re going to put together another list of people that we want to invite to the next camp and a list of people that we feel that maybe are not ready to get invited to the camp,” Groulx said. “It’s not going to be done right away because we have to assemble our ideas and put our thoughts together. This is only the first step. The next one is to evaluate them in their season. That’s an important step of the process.

“Camp will be at the beginning of December, so it will be done by the end of November for sure. It takes time. You have to think about it and we’re going to have to talk amongst the staff to get our things in order.”

For the players, these next four months will feel like years as they wait to hear if Hockey Canada thinks they’re good enough to make it to the second round of this elimination game.

“I’ll be antsy about it because you don’t know what to expect, but you have played your best,” said Eric O’Dell, an Anaheim Ducks prospect who plays for the Sudbury Wolves. “I think I did pretty well here. Hopefully the best happens.”

Red takes series – They ratcheted up the intensity Tuesday night and it brought about the best hockey we saw during the evaluation camp. Game 3 of the intra-squad series went to the Red Team, 4-2, but this wasn’t your friendly game of shinny.

A few punches were thrown, and there was a great deal of after-the-whistle action. At one point, the person running the stereo system inside the rink even played Inner Circle’s classic, “Bad Boys.”

It was apropos.

“I’m sure everyone expects it to be a friendly scrimmage, but you have the top 44 players in Canada here competing hard to win a spot so you can’t help but mix it up a little bit,” Kadri told “It’s healthy. On ice it’s all business. You make friends off the ice. No harm, no foul. There is nothing personal out there.”

Vancouver prospect Cody Hodgson scored the game-winner 9:55 into the second period. His goal put Team Red up, 3-0, but John Tavares scored a little more than nine minutes later and New Jersey draft pick Patrice Cormier added a late third-period goal.

Dallas prospect Jamie Benn led the way for Team Red with a goal and an assist. Boston draft pick Maxime Sauve and Minnesota prospect Colton Gillies also scored for Team Red.

“Everyone is battling hard and wanted this win to find out which team was better,” O’Dell said. “Oh yeah, that means a lot. We would have felt depressed if we lost the game. We’re going back to the hotel with smiles on our faces.”

Final stats – Team Red not only won the series, it dominated the stat sheet.

Jamie Benn led all players with four points on two goals and two assists during the three-game series. John Tavares led Team White with two goals and three points. Tyler Ennis also had three points for Team Red, including a goal and two assists.

Of the 40 skaters -- the four goalies not included – 27 registered at least one point, including 16 Team Red players. Mark Katic, Chris DiDomenico, Chris Terry and Nazem Kadri had two points apiece for Team Red.

Other than Tavares, Alex Pietrangelo and Nicholas Deschamps were the only other Team White players who finished with more than one point.

Team Red outscored Team White, 11-7, and out-shot it, 104-73. Goalie stats were not made available by Hockey Canada.

“There was a lot of intensity and the guys were skating and competing hard,” Groulx said. “We saw many good things.”

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