As expected, Jaden Schwartz - one of only four returning players from last year’s squad - has been named captain of Canada’s world junior hockey team.
Schwartz saw his tournament end prematurely last year because of a broken ankle, suffered in the second game against the Czech Republic. He will be supported by four assistant captains, Brett Connolly and Quinton Howden, both of whom also played on last year’s silver-medal winning team and two newcomers, Devante Smith-Pelly and Brandon Gormley.
Schwartz joins Alex Pietrangelo as the second member of the St. Louis Blues’ organization to be named captain in the past three years. The 19-year-old Schwartz plays for the NCAA’s Colorado College, and is the only U.S. collegian to make the cut for Team Canada this year. He has 18 points in 13 games thus far this year.
Connolly and Smith-Pelly both joined the world junior squad from their NHL teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Anaheim Ducks respectively, and are expected to add an important physical dimension to the team.
Howden was scheduled to play his first game for Canada on Thursday night in an exhibition against Switzerland in Red Deer, after being injured on a hit by Connolly in a scrimmage early in the tryout camp.
Gormley almost made the team two years ago as a 17-year-old and would have been close to a sure thing last year had he not shattered his kneecap in a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game on Nov. 26, just weeks before the tryout camp opened.
For Schwartz, the second chance to play for Canada will help him get over the disappointment of last year’s tournament. He was playing on the top line with Brayden Schenn before breaking his ankle and watching the rest of the event, on crutches, from the sidelines. Schwartz actually returned to play another shift and scored a power-play goal on the broken ankle before retiring to the dressing room for good. It is that sort of will and commitment that makes a player chosen 14th overall by the St. Louis Blues so attractive to a team.
“You always need good leadership,” said coach Don Hay, in an interview after the team was named. “You won’t win without good leadership.”
Hay currently has Schwartz playing on a line with the Brandon Wheat Kings’ Mark Stone and they looked good together in the first exhibition versus Finland. Though small - 5-9 1/2, 190 - Schwartz was probably Canada’s most consistent forward in that game, and made something happen offensively on virtually every shift.
“They’re hard guys to handle,” said Hay, of Schwartz and Stone, who will be counted on to produce offence for the team. “They’re two different ends of the spectrum. Jaden’s real good with the puck and is able to make real good plays with the puck. Mark goes to the net very hard; he’s a hard guy to move out of that area.”
For his part, Schwartz likes the possibilities of this year’s new line.
“Everyone’s a good hockey player here, everyone’s smart, so it’s pretty easy to play with anyone,” said Schwartz, “but I felt me and Stoner had good chemistry together. He’s a really smart player. He knows how to create and get into the open areas.”