In 1995, or the last time Don Hay coached Canada’s world junior hockey tournament, cell phones were an emerging technology; Twitter was something the birds did outside your window; and the Internet had not yet become as ubiquitous as it is today.
It was a different era, with different pressures, and for Hay, about the only thing that hasn’t changed in 17 years is how difficult the final world junior roster choices are to make. Hay and the rest of Canada’s world junior staff spent most of Tuesday night wrestling with their choices before unveiling their picks Wednesday morning, dropping 13 disappointed hopefuls to get down to the final 22-man roster.
Arguably, the biggest news was that Dougie and Freddie Hamilton were both chosen, making them the first brothers to play together on a world junior team since Randy and Mike Moller back in 1982.
The Hamiltons, goaltender Mark Visentin and centre Ryan Strome all made it as members of the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara Ice Dogs. Visentin was always going to be the starter, and the Hamiltons were held out of Tuesday’s final exhibition against the CIS all-stars, an early sign that both were on the team.
Strome, the fifth player chosen in the 2011 draft, had a few more anxious moments, given that he’d switched rooms in the team hotel and thus was lost in the shuffle for a couple of hours. Happily, Strome is a modern-day athlete; even before the knock on the door, he’d learned that he’d made the team, thanks to TSN’s Twitter feed, which reported the cuts, minute by minute.
Hay, who coaches the Vancouver Giants in the Western Hockey League, says social media – and its rampant use by his teenage players – is just a fact of 21st century life, one that he’s adapted to.
Hay acknowledged that Strome was probably not alone and that more than a few players “probably found out who made the team before we were able to knock on their doors – through the social media and TV and everything else that’s out there. That is a different thing – and as a coach, you have to make sure you’re up-to-date on things.”
One thing that hasn’t changed since Hay was last in charge: The expectations. They were high then. They remain high now.
“Everything is gold or nothing,” Hay said. “That’s the way Canada thinks. It’s kinda too bad. These are young men and they’re playing their hearts out for their country. Sometimes, it doesn’t go the way everybody wants it to, like in the last couple of years. But that doesn’t they haven’t competed as hard as possible, or did the right things. It just hasn’t worked out.
As promised, Hay did not let the injury concerns up front affect his final roster decisions. Two players who may not necessarily be available – forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Quinton Howden – both made the roster. Huberdeau, who is recovering from a foot injury and made a few quick twirls around the ice Wednesday, is the highest NHL draft choice on the team – third overall to the Florida Panthers last June – and he was the driving force behind the Saint John Memorial Cup win in the spring. Even though Huberdeau hasn’t played a meaningful game in weeks, Hay is not overly concerned.
“The date you’re looking for is Dec. 26, so he has time to get himself into competitive shape,” said Hay. “It might not be th shape he was in, in May of last year, but he’ll continue to get better each day. He’ll make great bounds, the more he skates and the more he plays.”
In all, it is not an especially experienced team, with just four holdovers from last year’s silver medal-winning team and one that will rely on scoring balance, rather than on a single individual to lead the way offensively, as Brayden Schenn did last year, racking up a tournament record 18 points.
Beyond Huberdeau, Mark Scheifele, who played eight games for the Winnipeg Jets earlier this season and will slot in as the team’s No. 1 centre, likely carry the heaviest weight of offensive expectations up front.
Hay did not immediately name his captains, saying that he wanted to see how the leadership develops when training camp shifts to Banff, where they will practice and conduct team-building exercises. The first official exhibition is next Monday against Finland; which is when the captains and associates will likely be named.
“You can’t force leadership,” Hay said. “You can’t force captains on anybody. You just have to see how it evolves.”