Canada Guns For Gold In Slovakia

By Laurence Heinen

A knock on the door last Thursday morning was not a good thing for the 33 players trying out for Canada’s National Under-18 Summer Team in Calgary.

Those who received early morning wake-up calls were told that they would not make the trip with the squad to Piestany, Slovakia for the Eight Nations Under-18 Cup from Aug. 12-18. Meanwhile, the 22 players who weren’t released gathered later in the morning to don Team Canada jerseys and pose for the traditional team photo.

The coaching staff, comprised of head coach Jim Hulton of the OHL’s Belleville Bulls and assistants Rick Allain of the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and Dean Chynoweth of the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, chose Lethbridge Hurricane defenceman Brent Seabrook to captain the squad.

“I’m just pleased to be named to the team and to receive the captaincy it was a great honour,” said Seabrook, a native of South Delta, B.C. “There’s so many leaders on the team, I think they could have given one (letter) to everybody.”

The other letters went to Oshawa General forward Nathan Horton and Portland Winterhawk blueliner Braydon Coburn, who were chosen as assistant captains.

While the forward unit will be comprised primarily of players from the east (five from the OHL, four from the QMJHL and three from the WHL), the defensive corps and the goaltending tandem has a distinctive western flavour.

In fact, all four netminders who were invited to the nine-day camp at Calgary’s Father David Bauer Arena hailed from Canada’s western provinces.

Cracking Team Canada’s lineup in net were Kelowna Rocket netminder Josh Lepp of Dalmeny, Sask., and Medicine Hat Tiger goalie Kevin Nastiuk of Edmonton. “It’s nice to see the western goalies get some recognition,” noted Nastiuk, who helped Team Pacific win a silver medal at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Manitoba last January. “The western goalies are really starting to come along.”

Lepp, who played for Team Western at the World U-17 Challenge, said that all four goalies could have made the team. “The talent was really great here at camp and every goalie played well,” said Lepp. “I was so excited this morning when I found out I made the team. I think it was just up in the air. There was tough competition all week.”

The competition for jobs came from Kootenay Ice backstop Bryan Bridges of Victoria, B.C., and St.-Boniface (Man.) native Rejean Beauchemin, who played at the Midget AAA level last season for the Winnipeg Warriors.

In fact, Beauchemin was the only player out of 34 invited to the camp who didn’t play at the Major Junior level last season. That being said, the Prince Albert Raiders prospect didn’t look out of place at camp. Neither did Bridges, but there were only two spots for goalies on the squad so two players had to get the disappointing early morning announcement last Thursday. Although they didn’t make the squad, watch for big things from both Beauchemin and Bridges in the coming years.

On defence, 12 players vied for seven spots on Canada’s National U-18 Summer Team. In most people’s minds, the top four spots were a given with Seabrook, Coburn along with Edmonton natives Dion Phaneuf of the Red Deer Rebels and Shawn Belle of the Tri-City Americans leading the way.

“It’s just been such an honour to be invited to camp and then making the team to represent your country over in Europe is just an amazing feeling,” said Phaneuf, who teamed with both Belle and Seabrook at the World U-17 Challenge.

“It’s a heck of an experience,” said Belle of the chance to represent Canada overseas. “All the guys that we played against are just great guys off the ice and they’re hard to beat on the ice. Now that we’re all coming together, it’s just going to be a really great experience for all of us and we’re just hoping to make the best of it.”

After that, the remaining three spots were up for grabs. In the end, the coaching staff went with Saskatoon Blade blueliner Mike Green of Calgary, Halifax Moosehead rearguard Alexandre Picard of Gatineau, Que., and North Bay Centennial defenceman Paul Bissonette of Welland, Ont.

A pair of Regina Pat defencemen Brennan Chapman and Darryl Yacboski were left off the squad as were Mike Looby of the Brampton Battalion, Jean-Michel Bolduc of the Quebec Remparts and Nathan Saunders of the Moncton Wildcats. Again, just to be invited to the prestigious summer camp is quite an honour and those who didn’t make the squad have no reason to hang their heads.

The forward lines will have a good mixture of size, skill and speed. When combined with the big and mobile defence, Chynoweth said he likes the makeup of the hockey club. “Obviously, we have some skilled forwards and the key is going to be to get them the puck to generate some offence,” said Chynoweth. “These guys are very capable and they’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Joining Horton on the front lines are fellow OHLers Corey Perry of the London Knights, Mike Richards of the Kitchener Rangers, Anthony Stewart of the Kingston Frontenacs and Jamie Tardif of the Peterborough Petes. Representing the Q are a pair of Baie-Comeau Drakkar forwards in Jean-Francois Jacques and Benoit Mondou as well as Steve Bernier of the Moncton Wildcats and Stephen Dixon of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. The Dub contingent of forwards consists of Nigel Dawes of the Memorial Cup champion Kootenay Ice, Colin Fraser of the Red Deer Rebels and Stefan Meyer of the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Not making the cut were Phillippe Dupuis of the Hull Olympiques, Ryan Getzlaf of the Calgary Hitmen, Eric Fehr of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Jeremy Colliton of the Prince Albert Raiders and Ryan Stone of Brandon, who sustained a concussion during last weekend’s Red/White Intrasquad Game.

Perhaps Fraser said it best when he commented that any of the players who were left off of the squad could have been picked and would have done a great job representing Canada at the tournament.

“They had the 34 best players here and any 34 players could have made the team,” Fraser said. “They had to cut it down to 22, but that’s the way it goes. It’s definitely an honour to wear the jersey.”

Team Canada begins its quest to win a sixth consecutive title at the Eight Nations Under-18 Cup with a game against the host Slovakia squad on Monday. The next day, Canada faces off against Finland and then gets a well-deserved day off before matching up against Switzerland on Thursday. The other pool consists of the Czech Republic, Sweden, Russian and the United States.