When their hotel room phone rang in the early hours of the morning, both roommates knew who was calling and what it meant long before the handset left the cradle.
Linden Vey, a 19-year-old defenceman with the Medicine Hat Tigers, was closest to the phone so he was the first to reach it.
“Hello?” His voice was raspy after a night of tossing and turning.
On the opposite side of the room, his defensive partner was Windsor Spitfires captain Ryan Ellis, who had already represented Canada at two world junior championships. The call was the harbinger of cuts from Team Canada’s selection camp and even though Ellis is considered a lock to make the team, he too awoke, stared nervously at Vey and thought: “Don’t be me. Don’t be me. Don’t be me.”
The conversation, if you can even call it that, was brief.
“OK, I’ll see you in a bit,” said Vey before putting down the phone.
The Los Angeles Kings prospect turned on the light and immediately started preparing for the flight back to Medicine Hat without the opportunity to have worn the Canadian crest at the world’s most prestigious junior tournament. Vey was one of nine players to get that 6 a.m. call on Tuesday morning; nine more calls will be made on Wednesday before Canada can whittle their roster down to 22 players.
“It was so tough to see that,” said Ellis of watching Vey pack up his belongings. “It’s tough to see a guy you’ve been living with for the past few days go.”
And even though Ellis has been to camp twice already without being cut, he’s still very familiar with that sick, sinking feeling that that dreaded phone call can bring.
Two years ago, during his first selection camp, he roomed with Brandon Wheat Kings forward Matt Calvert, who had been nursing an injury. As such, neither of them was surprised when Calvert got the call to go home, but when the phone rang again after the winger had already left – Ellis panicked.
“My heart sunk, it just dropped,” said the defenceman. “You start sweating, you start feeling just terrible.”
Fortunately for the first-round pick of the Nashville Predators, it was just an innocuous call to straighten out Calvert’s travel plans, but the reminder of the disaster averted still remained fresh in his mind at camp. A similar memory is still fresh for Acadie-Bathurst goaltender Olivier Roy, who is back at camp after being one of the final cuts last year.
“I knew I was on the (bubble) and had a chance to make the team, but I still wasn’t sure,” said Roy of being cut. “So basically I was preparing myself. I was ready for anything that was going to happen.
“Then the phone rings and there’s nothing you can do about it. It just makes you stronger for the next year.”
He’s hoping to avoid a similar fate – and phone call – on Wednesday when the final cuts come down.
“If I look at last year we were four goalies until the end,” said Roy, who is rooming with Niagara IceDogs netminder Mark Visentin. “I think they’ll do the same thing this year, so it’s going to be (Wednesday) morning. It’s going to be nervous for myself and the three other goalies because we all know they can only take two goalies; it’s going to be difficult.”
Last year, the netminder said he was too stressed out to sleep. Much of his night was spent staring at the clock, counting down the minutes. That experience in itself taught him a valuable lesson for his return to camp, where he’s a favourite for one of the two goaltending positions.
“At the end of the day, the only thing you can control is on the ice – you can’t control anything else,” said Roy sagely. “I did my best last year and gave everything I had to offer, but I didn’t make it. Hopefully this year I’ll be able to do the same thing, but be successful (and make the team).”
The man in charge of initiating those dream-crushing conversations, Team Canada head coach Dave Cameron, said it’s not something he takes lightly since this is usually the first time many of these elite players have had to face being rejected by a hockey team.
“It’s the only part of this job I don’t like,” said Cameron, who also coaches the OHL’s Mississauga Majors. “But it comes with the territory and it’s always tough to break a kid’s heart.”
He and the rest of Hockey Canada’s braintrust made the initial decisions on who to release after watching all the players at camp in two intrasquad games. Before the final cuts are made, Cameron and his staff will get one more look on Tuesday night when the remaining players will faceoff against an all-star squad comprised of university players (CIS), though two of the four goaltenders will be in net for Team CIS. It’ll give some players on the bubble one last shot at redemption.
If not, Cameron said he’ll try to keep the second round of phone calls as brief as he made the first.
“When you’re talking to (the players) in this scenario … they’re not going to remember a whole lot, so it’s not like you’re talking to them for any length of time,” explains Cameron. “You’re certainly not going to get into breaking down the reasons why. But what I asked them to remember for the meeting this morning is one, first and foremost, is that they are good hockey players and that they were invited to camp with 40 of their best peers from across the country… all these (cut) guys are going to play hockey for a long time, so I told them to go back to their club teams and dominate and grow as hockey players.”
Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org