This is truly is one of my favourite times of year.
Not only is it my birthday today (shameless, I know), but we’re also three days into one of the best hockey tournaments on the planet.
One of my favourite things to do over the holiday season is to turn off my phone, grab some junk food and hunker down to watch the World Junior Hockey Championship, with this year’s edition being held in Buffalo, New York.
Despite being more than a little disappointed that Red Deer Rebels standout Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn’t make the final cut for Team Canada, I will still cheer on the boys wearing the maple leaf with same gusto that I have in years past.
Like many Rebels’ fans, I thought there was an outside chance that we would see Nugent-Hopkins donning the red, black and white of our national team.
Actually, I was convinced that the 17-year-old would make the squad, buying into the thinking of TSN analyst Bob McKenzie, who suggested that Nugent-Hopkins should have made the team in the 13th forward role, giving head coach Dave Cameron the option of using Nugent-Hopkins in a special teams role, much like Ryan Ellis was used by then head coach Pat Quinn a couple of years ago.
In 2009, Ellis made the squad as a 17-year-old and was used almost exclusively on the powerplay, putting up one goal and six assists in six round robin games.
And since Cameron was an assistant under Quinn in 2009, I figured for sure he would have seen the success that resulted from carrying a player that might not see a lot of ice time, but has the ability to change a game with one shot.
But the competition at the selection camp was tough, and not one 17-year-old, Nugent-Hopkins included, made the squad.
In fact, everyone on the 2011 roster has been drafted by an NHL club, save for 18-year-old Sean Couturier, who, along with Nugent-Hopkins, is expected to be a top three pick in this summer’s Entry Draft.
Cameron was recently quoted as saying the 2011 edition of Team Canada would be a blue collar group, a team that would have to score by committee and work for every inch of ice.
“Sure, we don’t have a first line,” Cameron told reporters.
“But we have four really good second lines, so we’ll see what happens.”
Based on those comments, this is where I think a player like Nugent-Hopkins would do nothing but help Team Canada put goals on the board, even if it was purely in a special teams role.
But Cameron, during the day, coaches one of the best junior hockey teams in Canada (Mississauga St. Michaels Majors), while I am a sports reporter, so I think I’ll defer to his expertise on this one.
Meantime, the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is underway in Winnipeg, and although none of the games are televised, you can catch some of the games as they will be streamed on the Hockey Canada website, just in case you need something to watch when the World Juniors aren’t on the tube.
The event features five teams from across Canada, those being Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, West, and Pacific, as well as squads from the US, Finland, Germany and others.
I had the chance to cover the 2009 Under-17 challenge in Port Alberni, and I can honestly say my eyes were opened by the quality of hockey that fans were treated to.
Matt Dumba and Lucas Grayson, both defensemen with the Rebels, are on Team Pacific for this year’s tournament, following in the footsteps on Nugent-Hopkins, who helped Team Pacific to a fifth place finish at the 2010 Challenge in Timmins, Ontario, and we wish them all the best.
Add in the Rebels resuming their season, and Central Alberta hockey fans have more than a few excellent viewing options over the holidays.