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McDavid accomplishes goals at Canada's junior camp

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Connor McDavid had humble goals for the Canadian national junior team's summer development camp that wrapped up Friday.

"Right now," McDavid said Sunday after the first practice of camp, "I'm just worried about making this team and leaving a good impression on these coaches."

Mission accomplished.

And then some.

McDavid scored a highlight-reel goal and was a threat just about every time he stepped on the ice in a 5-2 loss to the Czech Republic on Friday. McDavid, a center for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, was the youngest player at Canada's camp and the only one who has not been drafted by an NHL team. That will change next June, when McDavid is likely to be the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to be held in Sunrise, Fla.

In spite of his age, McDavid's performance Friday put the finishing touches on a camp where he clearly identified himself as one of Canada's top players heading in to the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, which will be held in Montreal and Toronto over the Christmas holidays.

"We can't talk about what will happen once the team is named, but watching him play today it's hard to think he won't be there," Canada coach Benoit Groulx said following the game. "Connor had an excellent camp. He was one of the players that gave our team some momentum in the second period. There's no doubt he'll be a very, very dominant player in the Ontario Hockey League this year."

McDavid made himself noticeable from his very first shift of the game, wheeling around a Czech defender to get a sharp angle shot on goal. On his next shift, McDavid caught a Czech defender from behind and stole the puck in the offensive zone, made his way through the slot as defenders dropped to block a shot that never came, pulled Czech goaltender Miroslav Svoboda out of position and attempted to tuck the puck inside the near post from behind the goal line.

Only a tremendous defensive play by Czech defenseman Dominik Masin (Tampa Bay Lightning) prevented McDavid from scoring by stuffing his attempt at the post.

McDavid's goal came at 2:04 of the second period, giving his team life by cutting Canada's deficit to 3-1 with a tremendous display of speed. After defenseman Chris Bigras (Colorado Avalanche) cleared the puck off the glass from his own zone, the puck bounced off Nick Ritchie (Anaheim Ducks) and landed just in front of the Czech blue line. McDavid accelerated to reach the puck at full speed and blew past the Czech defense to come in alone on goal, slowing down right at the end of his rush to deke Svoboda to the backhand before tucking a forehand just past his pad.

McDavid also set up a number of chances, executing a perfect give-and-go with St. Louis Blues prospect Robby Fabbri for a quality chance in front, and later putting the puck through a Czech defender's legs before sending a backhand saucer pass to Calgary Flames prospect Sam Bennett for a one-timer that was stopped by Svoboda.

The constant offensive pressure put forth by McDavid also made him a target, with the Czechs never failing to miss an opportunity to hit him, even if it came after the whistle.

However, unlike his teammates who were in a constant stream to the penalty box, McDavid kept his composure and did not retaliate until 12:40 of the third period, at which point he had enough and challenged Masin after he was hit high in front of the net.

It's something McDavid has grown accustomed to through his young hockey career, and it was on full display Friday.

"I thought I did a good job keeping my emotions in check until the end of the third period when the game got out of hand," McDavid said. "It was getting pretty stupid."

Bo Horvat (Vancouver Canucks) of the London Knights in the OHL also came to McDavid's defense against Masin and came away with a roughing penalty, but he remained impressed with how composed his young teammate was in the face of constant targeting by the Czechs.

"Connor's already a pro, he does all the little things right," Horvat said. "He got us going today, he scored a big goal for us and that got the ball rolling for us. I thought he handled it really well, they were kind of after him all game and he handled it like a pro."

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