Coach Brent Sutter liked what he saw even if his Canadian junior team dominated the CIS Toronto Selects in exhibition play on Saturday afternoon.
Connor McDavid, the 16-year-old prodigy who draws most of the attention, scored Canada’s first goal and big Josh Anderson threw his weight around and scored as Canada downed the Selects 3-0.
Left winger Charles Hudon finished it off with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
“I was pleased with a lot of things,” said Sutter. “There were times in the third where we have to be careful in our own zone. We can’t be soft on pucks. We have to do everything hard and do it the right way.
“But if you look at the opportunities we had. All three of their goalies played really well for them, but it was good to see. We did a lot of good things.”
Canada dominated the play and outshot the Selects 56-20. Sutter isn’t worried that, considering the number of chances they produced, the finish around the net wasn’t quite there yet.
It was only the second day of a three-day camp at the Mastercard Centre to kick off preparations for the world junior championship that begins Dec. 26 in Malmo, Sweden.
The team will have an off-ice workout Sunday morning before flying to Sweden, where they will play pre-tournament games against Finland, the Swedes and Switzerland before the real games begin.
“I know all these guys can score goals,” said Sutter. “So it’s getting them to become a team first and foremost. Getting them to understand roles they’ll have to play on this team and making sure everything is within the confines of how we want to play, our identity as a hockey team.”
There are 25 players in camp and the roster will be trimmed to 22 — two goalies, seven defencemen and 13 forwards — for the tournament. No cuts will be made until the squad gets to Sweden. They could come after the first pre-tournament game Dec. 20 against the Finns.
Sutter had encouraging news on Jonathan Drouin, the gifted winger who is expected to be an offensive motor for Canada. The Halifax Mooseheads star, who suffered a concussion last week in Quebec Major Junior Hockey league play, was symptom free after riding a stationary bike and may be fit to resume skating when the team gets to Europe.
“We’ll get him to go a little farther (on Sunday) and if that goes well, we’ll get him on the ice when we go overseas,” the coach said.
The juniors owned the puck against the Selects, a team put together from three university squads, and Sutter gave plenty of ice time to the unit of McDavid, 2014 draft prospect Sam Reinhart and left winger Hunter Shinkaruk.
McDavid is vying to become the sixth skater to play for Canada’s world junior squad at 16, after Wayne Gretzky, Jason Spezza, Eric Lindros, Jay Bouwmeester and Sidney Crosby. He helped his bid with a strong effort against the Selects.
“I was okay,” the skinny, six-foot phenom said. “I felt pretty good out there.
“The pace was pretty good. The guys were a lot older, a lot bigger. I felt I had my legs. I felt the team played very well for our first game together. We didn’t give up a whole lot defensively, which was good.”
Canada outshot the students 19-3 in the opening period and had Hudon, Reinhart and Curtis Lazar hit goalposts. Still, the Selects first-period goalie Garrett Sheehan kept it scoreless.
The period offered several special teams situations, including one-man and two-man advantages and 4-on-4 play. McDavid and Reinhart got ice time in all of them. McDavid even played the right point on a two-man advantage.
“That was a little different,” the Erie Otters star said. “(Sutter) wants to try some things out.
“I will do whatever he wants me to. It was nice to play the power play and everything like that. There are 15 other forwards that can do that. I just want to worry about keeping my play up.”
McDavid finally got a goal on a power play 13:37 into the second period against Andrew Perugini, and was dangerous around the net for most of the game.
Asked about McDavid, Sutter grinned and said “he really did a good job.”
Then there was the six-foot-two Anderson, a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect who plays by the Brian Burke buzzword “truculence.” He not only dished out checks, but got a goal 15 seconds into the third period, picking the top corner behind Troy Passingham after a feed from behind the net from Rychel.
His line with Rychel and six-foot-four Frederik Gauthier also stood out.
“As the game went on, that line really got their legs under them,” said Sutter. “They’re all big guys that can skate.
“They play a heavy game. They get on the forecheck hard and they’re smart. It’s nice to have that size on your team and who play that way.”
Hudon had a wild night, missing on two breakaways before finally picking off a cross-ice pass and going in alone to score the empty-netter.
Zachary Fucale started for Canada and Jake Paterson took over at 10:06 of the second to share the shutout. Fucale had to be sharp on two chances by Andrew Buck early in the second after a turnover in Canada’s end.
“There wasn’t that many shots, but I kept my focus and did some good things out there and that’s what we want,” said Fucale.
“The team played well in front of me, which made it easy on me,” said Fucale’s camp roommate Paterson. “But all in all it was a good game.”
Normally, Canada has its goalies play for both teams when it faces a CIS squad, but Sutter said he didn’t want his goalies playing against each other.
Notes: Canada scratched four players — Griffin Reinhart, Bo Horvat, Josh Morrissey and Nic Petan. Sutter said Morrissey came to camp with soreness from an injury and they opted to rest him. The other were players who are all-but locks to make the team . . The CIS team was made up of players from York, Toronto and Ryerson universities.