-- During his quest to compose a selection camp roster for Hockey Canada's 2012 World Junior Championship entry, head scout Kevin Prendergast admitted there were players across the country that surprised him.
Perhaps no one surprised him more than Tanner Pearson of the Barrie Colts.
"There's always a couple of them, but I think the one guy that came out of nowhere on the radar is Pearson from Barrie," Prendergast said when Canada unveiled the camp roster last month. "He's had an outstanding year. He forced his way in here."
Tanner Pearson is vying for a spot with Team Canada. (Photo: OHL Images)
Prendergast can be forgiven for not having Pearson on his radar before the season. As an 18-year-old a season ago, Pearson had just 15 goals.
But after a summer spent in the gym with Colts teammate and 2011 first-round pick Mark Scheifele
, Pearson already has more goals and points this season than in 2010-11. Rewarded for his efforts, Pearson now finds himself a candidate to represent Canada at the world juniors.
"It's always special getting the recognition of what you're doing on the ice and the stuff you did over summer is paying off," Pearson said, who has 26 goals and 66 points, which still leads the Ontario Hockey League even though he hasn't played a game since Dec. 9.
The 19-year-old Pearson has been anonymous to Hockey Canada until this point, having no prior experience with the Program of Excellence, which is used by the organization to identify promising young talent across the country. Furthermore, Pearson has gone through the previous two NHL drafts unselected.
Scheifele, a strong candidate in his own right to be on Canada's squad, expected Pearson's emergence.
"He has tons of skill and he has such a great work ethic, so I could definitely see it coming," said Scheifele, taken by the Winnipeg Jets
with the seventh pick in the 2011 Entry Draft. "The pace he's on now, it's unbelievable and he's an unbelievable player."
Pearson survived the first round of cuts during the selection process, but not without a restless night on his part.
"I woke up around 4 this morning and was like, 'Wow, this happens in two hours,'" Pearson said, knowing the players being released would receive a 6 a.m. wakeup call with the bad news. "Thankfully I fell asleep until 7:30 when it was all over, and knowing it was over, I felt good."
But that doesn't mean Pearson is in the clear. With another round of cuts looming before the final roster is announced Wednesday, Pearson is hoping to avoid the dreaded phone call telling him he will not be with the team when the tournament gets underway Dec. 26.
"I could only imagine how that phone call would be," Pearson said. "There's still another day where that could happen, but hopefully I can go out and prove I can make this team. Hopefully I can rise to the challenge and be the player that got me here in the first place. I'm just going to have fun with it the rest of my time here and hopefully I can make it."
Pearson didn't hesitate to call Canada's final exhibition game, Tuesday against a team of Canadian college all-stars, one of the most crucial games of his young career.
"Right now it may be the most important," he said. "It's a dream for every junior kid to make this national team, so to be here is an honor and hopefully I make it."