August 10, 2013
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — It might not have been the end Brent Sutter was looking for – a 5-1 loss to the host U.S. – but considering the game was part of a friendly mini-camp, the head coach was able to put it in perspective.
“It’s like Day 5 or Day 6 of a training camp,” said Sutter. “There are kids that have had two practices that are coming in here and playing three games in four days.”
It was the first time Canada has participated in the four-team world junior summer evaluation camp. And the new arrangement drew rave reviews from both players and coaching staff alike.
“The change was great,” said Sutter of the new international tournament format. “You get a better feel and a better read of guys. From my perspective, you’re right with the group all the time. You’re coaching the group and you get a better feel on the bench where guys are at and who might fit better with whom.
“I thought the whole week was great.”
The players liked it too, since it broke up the monotony of the typical Red-White intersquad scrimmages. There wasn’t the same kind of boredom associated with seeing the same faces on the ice each day. Instead they were able to see some of the competition – Finland, Sweden and Team USA – earlier than usual.
“It’s good this year that we get to play other countries,” said forward Brendan Gaunce. “It’s not four intersquad games where you’re playing your friends four days in a row. It’s a lot of competition inside a team as well as playing other countries.”
And for many of the players invited to Lake Placid, the competition is only just beginning. Sutter says those earning ticket to summer camp aren’t guaranteed a spot when Canada opens their winter camp in December prior to leaving for the 2014 tournament in Malmo, Sweden.
“They’re the elite group at this point,” said Sutter. “But again, it’s about picking the right team and we can’t have guys coming to the club that have had a first half of struggle. It’s up to them to make sure they have their games at the level they need to have in the first half (of the season).”
Erie Otters star Connor McDavid had a strong start to camp, but characterized his play in the final game as “awful.” As a 16-year-old he knows he’ll be in tough to make the team, though he said going through the process was an excellent learning experience.
So what exactly did he learn?
“Just how intense this level is,” said McDavid, giving his assessment of the week. “Growing up watching the world juniors obviously the pace is fast and it’s hard hitting. It’s good to get experience playing at this level.”
McDavid, who already has an OHL season under his belt after being granted exceptional status, said he knows he’ll have to continue playing well in the regular season to warrant another look for the 2014 world junior squad. Only Sidney Crosby, Jason Spezza, Eric Lindros, Jay Bouwmeester and Wayne Gretzky have skated for Canada as 16-year-olds. He said he wasn’t sure if there was much consolation in knowing he was able to keep up with the older players at camp.
“I don’t know,” said McDavid. “It’s tough to say right now. I thought I played alright against Sweden, but (Saturday against the U.S.) it was probably a step back to making the team, but there’s still a long way to go to that camp. I think if I can have a good start to the year I can then I’ll be alright.”
There’s no doubt Canada will be watching McDavid and everyone else eligible – whether they’re on the radar now or not.
“To a man, with the group that we have, they’ll be looked at a lot of different times with our scouting staff and our staff overall,” said Sutter. “There will be other guys that will fall into the mix and come Christmas time we’ll put together the team we think will give (us) the best chance.”