Hockey Canada begins a remake of its under-17 men’s program this week by bringing together more than 100 of the country’s best 16-year-olds for a new camp.
Along with 54 coaches, equipment managers and medical staff, the nine-day camp in Calgary will be “massive,” according to Scott Salmond, vice-president of hockey operations at Hockey Canada.
“You can imagine how many trainers we need,” Salmond said.
Ninety-six skaters and a dozen goaltenders from across Canada will descend today upon the Markin MacPhail Centre, which houses Hockey Canada’s headquarters, an Olympic-sized rink and three NHL-sized surfaces.
The horde will be divided into steams, and in addition to playing three games, players will participate in on-ice skills development and learn national-team systems.
Their fitness will be tested, they’ll be fitted for equipment and they’ll participate in seminars on everything from media relations to nutrition.
Among the players in camp are three Newfoundlanders, centres Jordan Maher of Gander and Jesse Sutton of Mount Pearl, along with goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick of Mount Pearl. All three are 16, all played in the major midget ranks last season and all were selected in last month’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft.
Fitzpatrick, who lived and played in Nova Scotia last season while attending Newbridge Academy in Lower Sackville, was the fourth overall pick in the Q draft, taken by the Sherbrooke Phoenix. The six-foot-three netminder had a 12-6 record, 2.31 goals-against average and .923 save percentage for the Newbridge Gladiators of the Nova Scotia major midget league.
Maher, taken two picks later by the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, was the leading scorer in the Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget Hockey League in 2013-14, with 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) in 24 games for the Central IcePak. He then added another 21 points (10 goals, 11 assist) as the IcePak marched to the league championship. The five-foot-11, 165-pound Maher was also named the league’s MVP.
Sutton led the NLMMHL’s St. John’s Privateers in scoring last season with 20 goals and 32 points in 24 games. The six-foot, 175-pounder was a third-round draft pick of the Quebec Remparts in June.
Sixty-six invitees will be chosen to represent their country at the revamped World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The date of the annual tournament held in Canada has been changed as well as the host country’s participation in it.
Instead of five teams representing Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, West and Pacific regions, Canada will enter three teams mixing players from different parts of the country.
That means the Canadians will now play in the tournament under the banner of their country, and not their geographical region.
“We expect to have a large majority of our players identified at the camp and then go out and scout the remaining few on the bubble once the camp is over and before we name our teams,” head scout Ryan Jankowski said.
The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge has traditionally been held in late December during its 22 years, but the event will be Nov. 2-8 in Sarnia, Ont.
That date was changed to allow young hockey players to go home for the December holiday break. For those major junior teams with players away at the world under-20 championships, the younger players on those clubs will get more ice time, Salmond said.
Canadians in the Under-17 Challenge have gone on to play for the under-18, under-20, world and Olympic men’s teams. The tournament includes European countries as well as the United States.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Rick Nash, Marc-Andre Fleury, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and Nathan MacKinnon are among the 1,300 NHL draft picks who have participated in it, according to Hockey Canada.
The new camp was conceived to give Canada’s 16-year-olds intensive preparation for the world stage sooner under the slogan “The Canadian way,” Salmond explained.
“Our idea is to identify our best players earlier and then to have them play together more often,” he said. “When they were in a regionalized model, I think we were still doing a good job of identifying our best players regionally, but not nationally. They stayed in regional model until they came through to under-18s.”
“Now, we have the best players in the country and they come all to one place. We end up picking three teams that will have no regional bias. Kids from Quebec will play with kids from Alberta. It gives us an opportunity for our best players to be mixed together and for them to play together more often.”
With files from The Telegram