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World Juniors

Canada keeping roster plan consistent for 2020 World Junior Championship

Not letting disappointing 2019 result alter approach to building group with scoring depth, high competitiveness, hockey IQ

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent

OAKVILLE, Ontario -- Canada is not letting a disappointing result at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship affect how it approaches building its team for the 2020 tournament in the Czech Republic.

"You might tweak, but our overall philosophy is offensive depth throughout, players who are competitive and have a good hockey sense," Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen said. "You look at last year in the quarterfinals and it's a bad break at the end and they go on to win the gold medal. So you know you're real close, but it is what it is."

Canada lost 2-1 in overtime against Finland in the quarterfinal in 2019, allowing the tying goal with 47 seconds left in the third period. Though finishing sixth was not the result Canada wanted, the general manager of the 2020 team said they are not feeling any pressure to make amends.

The 2020 WJC runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2020 in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic.

"Most of these players weren't here and the coaching staff wasn't here," said Mark Hunter, leader of the World Junior Championship team management group. "It's something that happened last year, and if you look at it there were some bad bounces that played into them losing. You can analyze everything to death, but we have to move ahead here and make our own bounces to put ourselves in position to win hockey games."

Canada will begin the 2020 WJC against the United States in a Group B preliminary-round game at Ostraver Arena in Ostrava on Dec. 26 (1 p.m. ET; NHLN).

"We're looking ahead here," Hunter said. "We're looking at our group of players going forward here, and I think we have a style from the coaches that we want to play and every coach has a different style."

So what is that style? McEwen, who also served as head scout in 2019, said it has not changed much from last year.

"The age groups are different, you have different opportunities with what's presented, and this year we have real legitimate options throughout offensively and that gives us maybe a little more depth scoring (than last year)," McEwen said. "The guys we had last year were good players in those roles too. We probably didn't get as much as we wanted at times. But this year is a group that has a chance to provide that depth offensively and give the opposition a bit of a different look and make matchups a bit harder."

Three players at selection camp were part of the 2019 team: forward Alexis Lafreniere and defensemen Ty Smith and Jared McIsaac. Forward Joseph Veleno was released for the tournament by the Detroit Red Wings but won't join the group until camp ends.

Of the 31 players at the camp, 14 were born in 2001 or 2002. That group includes Lafreniere, who scored one goal in five games at the 2019 WJC. He's also one of eight players eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. He leads the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists) in 32 games for Rimouski and is the favorite to be the No. 1 pick.

Quinton Byfield, who has 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists) in 30 games for Sudbury of the OHL and Cole Perfetti, who has 45 points (15 goals, 30 assists) in 29 games for Saginaw of the OHL, are also draft-eligible forwards who could play important roles for Canada.

"It was more about just the best players and that we felt that they were the best players for the right time and this is now," McEwen said. "I'm excited about the youthful enthusiasm and how this is going to shake out about how the roster is built. They're all really good players, lots of skill. I'm not so concerned about the ages as I am the type of players they are."

Canada will not be devoid of veteran players though. Veleno had two assists in five games for Canada in 2019, and Smith had three assists in five games. Each will play in the World Juniors for the final time.

Canada has not finished in the top three at a World Junior Championship held in Europe since finishing first in 2008 in the Czech Republic. They were fourth in Russia in 2013 and in 2014 in Sweden and sixth in 2016 in Finland.

McEwen said the only area in which playing oversees on a larger ice surface factors into the selection process is making sure all players are well above-average skaters.

"It's not so much the pace but it's the extended width of the ice and you've got to be able to get from A to B well," McEwen said. "When you're talking about the top junior players in Canada, I think they can pretty well all skate so that's not as big an issue. But it's something you've got to be aware of."



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