For three players making the trek to Europe with Team Canada, the trip will be a short one.
Head coach Brent Sutter told reporters on Sunday morning that he’s hoping to cut his 25-player roster down to 22 by the time they play host Sweden in an exhibition game on Dec. 22. They play Finland on Dec. 20, which could be the last chance for players to make their case to stay on the team.
Canada’s final roster has to be submitted on Dec. 25, before they open the tournament in Malmo, Sweden on Boxing Day against Germany.
“I’d like to have the decision pretty firm in my head before our last two exhibition games,” said Brent Sutter in Toronto before the team left for Copenhagen, Denmark. “That can depend on circumstances such as injuries and so forth.”
It will be a change from Canada’s usual process of making the cuts at the end of camp in front of the assembled media. This year there will be no teary-eyed teens answering questions before being shuffled out a back door. But, as Sutter notes, the task of making the cuts will still be tough.
“It’s never easy when you get to this point,” said Sutter. “From a coaches perspective it’s good that it’s not an easy decision … the reality is that we’ve still got a couple guys banged up and we’re not exactly sure – hopefully they can get skating when they get over there. Whether they’ll be ready for the first exhibition game or not, we’re not sure.”
Among those still questionable is Halifax Mooseheads star forward Jonathan Drouin, who suffered a concussion on Dec. 6, when he was hit from behind by Quebec Remparts forward Adam Erne during a QMHL game. The 18-year-old third-overall pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning did not skate at all during camp, but said his health has been improving day. On Saturday, Drouin was able to ride the stationary bike and was symptom-free, which bodes well for Canada.
“I’m anxious to go back on the ice and skate with the team,” Drouin told reporters on Sunday. “Biking’s not the (most fun) thing, but it is part of the protocol and I’m getting used to it.
“Hopefully I’ll get back on the ice soon.”
Drouin is one of three returnees from last year’s fourth-place squad in Ufa, Russia. Last year with Canada, the forward had two goals and two assists as a 17-year-old and was one of the team’s better players.
The other returnees include goalie Jake Paterson, who was the team’s third-string goalie and defenceman Griffin Reinhart. Reinhart, however, will miss the first three games of the tournament while serving a four-game suspension which carried over from a high-sticking incident at the 2013 championship. Reinhart will be back in the lineup for Canada’s Dec.31, game against the defending gold medalists from Team USA.
Despite the suspension, Sutter has mentioned on more than one occasion how players like Reinhart will be expected to provide leadership for what will be an unusually young team for Canada.
“Anybody that’s had the experience is going to be significant in that part of it, with the leadership part of it,” said Sutter. “We do have a younger team than we have in the past year, but part of it is because we have such a strong 18-year-old group across our country. Also we have two or three guys that are very elite (Connor McDavid, 16, Aaron Ekblad, 17, and Sam Reinhart, 18) so we’re certainly going to be a younger team.
“That doesn’t bother me at all because they’re good players. They’re the best. But you need to have experience with that, too.”
A younger team and making cuts in Europe weren’t the only major changes for Hockey Canada’s selection process this year. Instead of the usual large camp – anywhere from 30 to 40 players – Sutter and company opted for a smaller group of 25, keeping in line with what many European teams are doing. It also gave Sutter more time to develop and hone his team with this final group of players.
“We can start working on our things and get this group together and start becoming a team,” said Sutter. “I’ve seen it since Day One. It’s stuff that’s been discussed everyday with the young men and stuff that we discussed immediately when we first got here – to me that’s the most important thing. You can work on all these things, but if they’re not bonding and becoming close-knit like a family – it can all become pretty irrelevant.
“We need everyone buying in.”