His smile was so wide one began to wonder if Casey Cizikas’s cheeks were locked into position.
“I’m pretty excited,” said the captain of the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors. “This is definitely the most exciting moment of my life, being here right now.”
On Monday afternoon, “here” was the MasterCard Centre in the west end of Toronto where Cizikas was among 39 players to garner a Hockey Canada invite to their world junior selection camp next month. Dave Cameron, who coaches the OHL’s Majors, will also be behind the bench for Team Canada – giving him added insight into invitees like Cizikas and teammate, goaltender JP Anderson.
Cizikas says he just wanted to fly under the radar off the ice with Cameron while the Hockey Canada committee was deciding the camp roster of 23 forwards, 12 defencemen and four goalies.
“I thought the last thing I want to do is annoy him,” said the Mississauga native, who has 13 goals and 17 assists in 23 games this season. “I just wanted to catch his eye by playing well and hopefully I’ve done that well enough.”
Canada will have some familiar faces on the blue line when camp opens Dec. 12, with veteran defencemen Ryan Ellis, Jared Cowan and Calvin de Haan back from the squad that won silver in 2009. Ellis, a two-time Memorial Cup champion with the Windsor Spitfires, was also on the Canadian team that won a gold medal in 2008. But outside of those three, this year’s crew is largely unheralded, without a big name like Taylor Hall, John Tavares or Sidney Crosby to carry the offence as in years past.
“There are no superstars on this team,” said Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast. “It’s going to be a blue-collar team, and knowing the way (Cameron) coaches, it’s a team that’s going to win by working hard and outworking teams.”
Cameron’s Mississauga squad is the top-ranked major junior team in the country with a stellar 22-2-0-1 record despite not having a single player in the OHL’s top 20 scorers, but he’s made his system work without a bona fide star. He says players who impressed in summer camp like Montreal’s Louis Leblanc, Swift Current’s Cody Eakin and last season’s QMJHL scoring champion Sean Couturier of Drummondville will now have the opportunity to shine on the national and international stage.
“I don’t think we’re going to have the home run hitter per se,” said the 52-year-old former NHLer in using baseball parlance. “But I think we’re going to have a lot of guys who can get on base.”
Just as the announcement of the invites was being made, word was spreading about the injury to Moncton Wildcats defenceman Brandon Gormley, who reportedly suffered a serious knee injury during a QMJHL game on Friday. The first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes was named to the selection camp, but it’s looking highly unlikely he’ll be able to attend.
“I’m really disappointed for Brandon, selfishly from my point, too, because he’s a pretty good player,” said Cameron of his fellow P.E.I native. “Just knowing how heartbroken this kid is because he’s been eliminated from this tournament already because of a factor he’s had no control over.”
And while Gormley at least received an invite, there were a few notables missing from Monday’s announcement including Kingston Frontenacs forward Ethan Werek, Brandon Wheat Kings veteran Scott Glennie, Oshawa Generals forward Christian Thomas, and the top goal scorers in the OHL and WHL -- Ottawa 67's sniper Tyler Toffoli and Kamloops Blazers forward Brendan Ranford.
“There are a lot of disappointed guys across Canada that are disappointed they’re not here and in their minds should be here,” said Cameron. “If there’s a downside to (this), it’s that you do break a lot of kids’ hearts, but that’s the nature of the beast.”
Brandon Wheat Kings forward Brayden Schenn was also left off the list of invitees because he’s still with the Los Angeles Kings. The NHL team has yet to release him for the tournament, though Prendergast said getting the talented forward would be like “getting an early Christmas present, really.” The Chicago Blackhawks, however, loaned former NCAA standout Brandon Pirri from their AHL affiliate in Rockford, Ill.
Canada, in the difficult B Pool along with Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and Norway, opens the 10-team tournament in Buffalo with a game against the Russians on Dec. 26.
This will be Cameron’s third trip to the tournament with Canada after serving as an assistant in 2009 and then again as an associate coach last year in Saskatoon where Canada lost to Team USA in the final. He said being on both sides of the scoreboard in the final has been beneficial, now that he’ll have control of the bench.
“It reinforces a lot of things,” said Cameron. “Winning’s great and losing sucks, that’s the main thing. (It reinforces) the fine line and how it does come down to two or three key plays.”
Sunaya Sapurji is the Jr. Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org