The one guy is so good he made the Canadian world junior hockey team by doing the crawl. Or maybe it was the dog-paddle. Either way, Jonathan Huberdeau spent more time in a swimming pool nursing his sore foot than he did on the ice at the Calgary selection camp.
The other guy worked his game at practice every day and operated without much fanfare because that’s what Mark Stone does. He’s relentless, he wears on opponents. Huberdeau? He dazzles with speed and puck handling.
This is who they are: the grinder and the dazzler. And what they have to do for Team Canada is score goals. Not every goal, but enough to help their homeland contend for the 2012 gold medal. As important as it is for Mark Visentin to be solid in goal and Nathan Beaulieu to shine on defence, Huberdeau and Stone have to supply offence. They have to make plays, then finish them in their own inimitable way.
“I’m a two-way player with good offensive skills. Good vision. I’m more of a playmaker,” said Huberdeau, the most valuable player in last season’s Memorial Cup tournament with the Saint John Sea Dogs.
“I’m a big guy. I like to go to the net and score goals,” said Stone, the Brandon Wheat Kings’ captain and Western Hockey League scoring leader after 33 games this season.
Of the two, Huberdeau is the more eye-catching, not to mention a bit of a question mark. In early November, while playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the 6-foot-1, 177-pound forward took a rival’s shot off his right foot and later learned he’d suffered a broken bone.
For six weeks Huberdeau was on the shelf. Even after being named to the Canadian junior national team, the best he could do was rehab in a swimming pool to keep the weight of his damaged foot. When the final roster was picked and the players posed for on-ice photographs, Huberdeau donned his skates for the first time and moved leisurely about the arena. Since then he has skated hard in practice.
“I feel good right now,” said Huberdeau, who was looking to play in at least one of Canada’s last two exhibition games before the tournament opens Boxing Day. “[Team officials]want to be sure I can come back and not stress my bones.”
The Canadian coaching staff was willing to take a chance on Huberdeau given a skill set that made him the third pick overall by the Florida Panthers last summer. Working him into the Canadian lineup will take patience and caution.
As for Stone, it’s best just to let him roll. At 6 foot 3, 206 pounds, the Winnipeg-born forward has been dominating the WHL with his crash-bang, goalmouth charges. The thinking is this world junior tournament could be Stone’s breaking-out party, a chance to flourish under the national spotlight.
In his early years with Brandon, Stone was overshadowed by Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie. In his draft year of 2010, Stone hoped the scouts would be able to see his worth on a good team. Instead, the injuries piled up and he plummeted to the sixth round, where he was chosen by the Ottawa Senators.
“It was probably one of the most negative years of my life,” Stone recalled. “I broke my thumb and missed the first 30 games of the season. I was knocked out in a fight and had a concussion for another three weeks. We had a pretty good offensive team so I was playing behind a lot of top-end players. It was a tough year.”
The last 18 months, though, have been spectacular, and his general manager with the Wheat Kings expects more of the same with Team Canada.
“He’s got tremendous instincts for the game, very intelligent player and that helps him compensate for his skating,” Kelly McCrimmon offered. “That said, I’m impressed with just how much his skating has improved. The guys he plays with all play well because he gets them the puck, he gets open and he competes.
“I think [Team Canada coaches]will be getting everything they expect Mark to be.”
The grinder and the dazzler. This could be the start of a 24-karat partnership.