Brampton’s Jays Hoping To Shine On World Stage

By Mark McDonald

The Brampton Battalion’s two Jays – Jay Harrison and Jay McClement, earned invitations to the 2002 Canadian Junior Team selection camp to be held at York University’s Beatrice Ice Gardens in Toronto from December 10th to 17th. The two OHL veterans are hoping to join their coach, Stan Butler, to the Czech Republic to help Canada reclaim the gold medal that has eluded them since 1997.

Harrison (Toronto, 3rd round 2001), vying for a spot on the team for the second consecutive year, is a fourth-year defenseman enjoying his best offensive season thus far in 2001-02. With five goals and 13 assists in 26 games thus far, he has already reached a personal high in goals for a season and is two away from his personal best in points.

Harrison saw little ice time as the 7th defenseman on the Canadian team that won bronze in Moscow last year, but gained valuable experience and hopes to use that to his advantage during the selection camp and during the tournament. While his offensive numbers are relatively impressive this season, Harrison’s real and natural strengths are found in his own end. If he does in fact make the team, Harrison’s defensive abilities will likely see him called on to kill important penalties and to neutralize some of the opposition’s top marksmen.

However, despite his extensive experience in international play (he also played in the 1999 World Under-18 tournament, earning top defenceman honours) and his presence on last year’s National Junior Team roster, Harrison is no lock to make this year’s squad. Besides the fact that names like Bouwmeester, Hamhuis, Schultz, and Popovic are returning from last year, Harrison will have to fight off recent first-round NHL selections such as Erie’s Carlo Colaiacovo (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2001) and Red Deer’s Jeff Woywitka (Philadelphia Flyers, 2001) for a job. Other hopefuls including promising youngster Steve Eminger of the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.

The smart money is on Harrison returning to Canada’s international lineup once again, however, adding a strong presence on the blueline and providing very defensively conscious play.

This year’s selection camp will be third-year centre Jay McClement’s first, although he was at this past summer’s evaluation camp as a replacement for Stephen Weiss who did not attend. McClement, who was the first selection of the St. Louis Blues in June’s entry draft, has provided solid two-way play for Brampton through the early part of its season and has been extremely hot of late. Through Brampton’s first 26 games, McClement had potted 13 goals and added seven assists. While his numbers are respectable (and some of his goals have been as a result of spectacular individual efforts), McClement is another of Butler’s crew whose strengths are not necessarily seen on the scoresheet. He has provided very responsible play in his own end, and is a big reason why Brampton’s penalty-killing unit is statistically near the top of the OHL’s 20 teams.

Competition for available roster spots among the forward ranks promises to be extremely fierce. McClement, a centreman, will have to fight for his spot against returnee pivots such as Jason Spezza and Jarrett Stoll, both assumed to be near locks to make this year’s squad. Presenting another obstacle is Stephen Weiss, who after skipping the summer evaluation camp, successfully appealed to the Canadian Hockey Association to be eligible participate in the final selection camp. Weiss (selected by the Florida Panthers 4th overall in 2001) was released from last year’s national team, but nevertheless is also considered a heavy favourite to capture a spot.

One recent development that may work in McClement’s favour is 2001 team member Brad Boyes contracting mononucleosis. Boyes, who was enjoying a spectacular season as the captain of the high-flying Erie Otters, is a centre who would have been a lock for this year’s roster. If he is fact not able to recover in time for the tournament, McClement may represent an admirable choice to represent Canada in the Czech republic. Simply put, in the game’s final minute, whether his team is up a goal or down a goal, Jay McClement is the type of player whose coach never hesitates to throw over the boards. He, like Harrison, could add a valuable defensive dimension to Canada’s roster, a player who would be more than comfortable shadowing some of the world’s top offensive junior-aged players.

McClement’s hopes of making the team, however, may come down simply to whether Boyes is able to recover in time and be healthy enough to absorb contact before the team boards a plane on the 17th of December. If he does find himself wearing red and white in the Czech Republic, they will not be unfamiliar colours. McClement traveled to Slovakia in the summer of 2000 as a member of Canada’s Under-18 team, helping his country strike gold. McClement also played on Ontario’s entry at the 2000 World Under-17 Challenge, a team that won a silver medal.

Whether one or both of Brampton’s two Jays find themselves in Eastern Europe over the holidays still remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however – neither of the two would hurt Canada’s chances at bringing home the medal that it has waited five years to reclaim.