TSN SportsCentre Reporter Mark Masters reports on the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championship. Team Canada held an optional skate in Edmonton on Monday ahead of a pre-tournament game against Sweden in the evening.
Mason McTavish lobbied the Anaheim Ducks to let him play in the summer World Juniors.
“It was a little bit of back and forth, but I expressed how passionate I was about coming here,” the third overall pick in the 2021 National Hockey League draft said. “I want to win one of these so bad. They talked to me about it, the pros and cons and stuff like that, but I’m super passionate about coming here and wearing the Maple Leaf.”
Nine players who made Team Canada in December will not be back this summer including forwards Cole Perfetti, Jake Neighbours, Dylan Guenther, Xavier Bourgault, Mavrik Bourque, Justin Sourdif and Shane Wright as well as defencemen Owen Power and Kaiden Guhle.
The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship runs from Aug. 9-20 at Edmonton’s Rogers Place. The tournament originally scheduled from Dec. 26, 2021, to Jan. 5, 2022, was cancelled just four days into the event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Some guys are hurt and some guys are focusing on the NHL and stuff like that, but for me it was an easy decision,” McTavish said of returning to Edmonton. “I want to win a gold medal for Canada.”
Last season, McTavish played in the NHL, American Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and at the Beijing Olympics. The 19-year-old centre also helped the Hamilton Bulldogs reach the Memorial Cup in Saint John, N.B. where he played in the championship game on June 29.
“He’s been everywhere this year,” said Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard, who has been skating on Canada’s top line with McTavish. “He’s played on, I don’t know, eight different teams or whatever it is, so for him to come here is really special.”
“It was a joint decision,” McTavish said of his discussion with the Ducks. “They were kind of OK with it and I was so happy to hear that news.”
McTavish and Kent Johnson are the two players on Team Canada, who have NHL experience. Johnson, the fifth overall pick in 2021, suited up in nine games with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“With not getting to finish in December, there was no way I could turn it down,” said Johnson. “I think the same for Mason. I’m glad we’re both here.”
“They could have very easily said, ‘No, we’re going to be in the NHL next year and that’s where we want to go,'” said Team Canada head coach Dave Cameron. “So, a real, real appreciation for them and that’s why it was pretty easy to have those guys as part of the leadership group.”
McTavish will serve as captain while Johnson is an alternate.
“The most impressive thing for me, probably, about Mason is he has no ego,” Cameron said, “and in this day and age that’s not always the case. When people ask me about him I say, ‘He’s just a hockey player.’ That’s all he’s interested in doing and where all his time and energy goes.”
In a normal year, McTavish would be spending time on the golf course and in the gym in mid-August and not gearing up for an intense international event.
“You can look at it both ways,” McTavish said. “Maybe you’ll be a little tired, but for me it’s kind of setting yourself up for success. It’s definitely something you can build on heading into an NHL camp.”
McTavish points out that the trainer he usually works with in Ottawa, Sean Young of the 67s, is also the strength and conditioning coach for the World Junior team, which will help him maintain a familiar routine.
“Having a camp like this in August, it’s kind of unheard of,” McTavish said. “It’s nice to get skating a lot now and play against the best junior players in the world. Hopefully it can gear me up for the NHL.”
Johnson produced just three assists and five shots during his April audition with the Blue Jackets.
“I was getting comfortable at the pro level and seeing what translates and what doesn’t,” he said.
The big takeaway?
“When I get off the wall, my IQ and passing translates pretty well,” the University of Michigan product said. “I just got to get off the walls. If I get stronger, I can battle a bit better when I’m on the walls. A little bit more strength will help me get some more separation.”
Kamloops’ Dylan Garand and Edmonton’s Sebastian Cossa will split time in net on Monday night. London’s Brett Brochu will be a healthy scratch.
“That’s probably the toughest position to figure out with only the one pre-tournament game,” said Cameron. “We’re taking the same approach as last year where we’re evaluating every day.”
In December, Garand and Cossa also split the lone pre-tournament game. Garand played well and ended up getting the call on Boxing Day. Cossa struggled and fell to No. 3 on the depth chart.
Garand hasn’t played since May 31 when the Blazers lost Game 7 of their third round WHL playoff series against the Seattle Thunderbirds.
“It’s tough to get acclimated to the speed,” he readily admits. “You try and fix up those summer habits. Getting good habits at a fast level is the toughest thing to get back into.”
What’s a summer habit?
“Being lazy,” he explained. “Like, a rebound goes into the corner and you’re not following it with the same intensity. It’s been a while so those are the things to be aware of.”
Garand may be a bit rusty, but he is also full of confidence after being named the top goalie in the Canadian Hockey League.
“My development throughout the whole year is something I’m really proud of,” the New York Rangers prospect said. “I worked really hard and that just makes me even more ready, being back here in the summer, to take that next step and make an impact at the tournament.”
Garand is a more self-aware goalie now.
“I’m understanding the game, but also understanding my game and what works for me and building my own personal foundation and sticking to that and being consistent with it,” he explained. “That’s definitely where I’ve taken the biggest step.”
What’s the foundation of his game?
“Beating passes,” the 6-foot-1 Victoria native said. “When passes are made, I like to be there quick and making sure I’m in position. Dealing with traffic is also big. I work hard to see. If I can see the puck I know I have a good chance to stop it.”
Garand is the only player returning from the 2021 team that won silver in the Edmonton bubble.
“It’s not like it’s my first start so I’m more comfortable,” he said. “I can shift my focus to my job and doing what it takes to win a gold medal.”
Cossa, who stands 6-foot-6, is also riding a wave of confidence after backstopping the Oil Kings to the WHL title.
“It was a good experience for me going on that long playoff run and getting a championship under my belt,” the Detroit Red Wings prospect said. “There were a lot of ups and downs in that playoff run.”
Cossa went 16-3 with a .919 save percentage in the WHL postseason. What’s he doing better now versus December?
“Just keeping my feet underneath me and being set for every single puck,” he said. “My hands have also gotten better because of that.”
Usually Hockey Canada would hold a four- or five-day selection camp to determine the World Junior roster, but they opted to simply name the team this summer.
“There’s just not enough time,” Cameron explained. “So, one of the nicest things about this camp is you don’t have to cut anybody.”
There were no cuts, but chemistry is a concern.
“We had some guys we hoped were going to come back that had played together on lines on their own teams like Bourque and Bourgault in Shawinigan,” Cameron noted. “We had Neighbours and Guenther in Edmonton. So, we were looking at that in terms of building chemistry quicker. We thought that could be an advantage, but there’s nothing you can do about that.”
Cameron has tinkered with three forward lines throughout the last week. The only trio that has remained in tact throughout the process is Kamloops’ Logan Stankoven between Johnson and Barrie’s Tyson Foerster.
Zack Ostapchuk is among the new faces on Team Canada this summer.
“It’s really special,” the Vancouver Giants winger said. “I heard there were a couple injuries and I wanted to be a replacement really bad. It caught me by surprise when they called me, but I was ecstatic. I was preparing to go to the summer camp for the Halifax [2023 World Junior] team and then they call you and give you the news that you’re walking onto the Edmonton team. It was a crazy feeling for a bit. You almost don’t believe it.”
Ostapchuk led the Giants in playoff scoring with 23 points in 12 games.
“I had a good end to the year and a good playoff run,” the Ottawa Senators prospect said. “I was able to add more speed to my game, more strength and become more versatile. I can play in any situation and I think that really helped me get on this team.”
Ostapchuk feels like his greatest improvement came between the ears. After getting off to a slow start last season (one goal and two assists in 10 games), the St. Albert, Alta., native had a moment of clarity.
“I slowed down my mind a bit and was relaxed and trusted my instincts,” he said. “I just started to think the game a little better, honestly. It was just a confidence thing.”
Ostapchuk skated on the third line in the opening practice at Canada’s camp alongside fellow Senators prospect Ridly Greig. He projects to start Monday’s game as the 13th forward.
“I can be a guy that’s extremely hard to play against,” Ostapchuk said. “I can be on our PK unit and be a guy that other teams don’t want to play. I can shut down top lines and skate with anybody. So, that’s what I can bring.”
Projected Team Canada lineup for Monday’s pre-tournament game:
Roy – McTavish – Bedard
Johnson – Stankoven – Foerster
Othmann – Greig – Dufour
Cuylle – Desnoyers – Gaucher
Sebrango – Zellweger
O’Rourke – Cormier
Seeley – Thompson
Scratches: Kidney, Del Mastro and Brochu