2020 njt tourigny bench shot

Into the unknown

A larger-than-usual roster and a longer-than-usual camp mean the road to the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship will be anything but ordinary

Jason La Rose
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October 29, 2020
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The roster is set for Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp. Let the wild ride begin.

COVID-19 has thrown the junior hockey world into disarray, presenting unprecedented challenges to the Team Canada staff as they worked to build a roster and put together a camp schedule in the midst of a pandemic.

The result? Forty-six players – far more than are usually still in the mix this close to the World Juniors – will gather in Red Deer, Alta., beginning Nov. 16, starting a 40-day journey to Canada’s tournament opener against Germany on Boxing Day.

Players and staff will enter the bubble when they arrive for camp and won’t leave until the gold medal is awarded in Edmonton on Jan. 5.

For André Tourigny, the head coach of Canada’s National Junior Team, the process to finalize the camp roster was unlike anything he had experienced in his previous four trips to the World Juniors as an assistant.

But that’s not a bad thing. The lack of on-ice action – the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL) have yet to drop the puck, while the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) started up in early October – meant an opportunity to watch video of more than 100 potential camp invitees.

“The viewings of every player are way more than in a normal year, other than in the players you play against in your league,” says Tourigny, who coaches the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL. “The guys from the [QMJHL] and the guys from the [WHL], I have a way better understanding of how they play, what type of game they play, how their coach used them and in which situation they trust them or don't.”

Step one – identifying the hopefuls – is done. Now it’s on to step two – a selection camp unlike any other.

The schedule unveiled Thursday is a 28-day marathon that includes nine games – three intrasquad match-ups and six against a team of U SPORTS all-stars – and 22 practices, with just three off-days.

The key for Tourigny and his staff is getting players, many of whom have not played a competitive game in eight months, back up to game speed and peaking by Boxing Day.

Luckily, this camp includes one luxury that isn’t common for the average World Juniors – time.

“Our guys have not had a chance to play a lot of games, and not had a chance to get in game shape,” Tourigny says. “Normally, they have training camp and then they have their season. When they arrive [at selection camp], then the concern is always to make sure they're not worn down because some of those guys play 27, 28 minutes a night, so you want to have a schedule where you pace them a little bit. This time is the reverse.

“We have a plan to play 11 games [including pre-tournament showdowns with Sweden and Russia] before the tournament starts. That will give time to get some game action, some trial and error, some confidence, some rhythm. We want to have a good mix of teaching and making sure we put the pace of what the World Juniors can look like, and having enough games so the guys cannot just practice the system, but do it during a game.”

So the on-ice component is well taken care of. But as is the case with sports – and life – around the world, the ultimate unknown is casting a shadow over camp – COVID-19.

The ongoing pandemic has led to strict guidelines put in place by Hockey Canada, in partnership with Hockey Alberta and public health authorities, and Tourigny is confident everyone involved will be well-prepared when camp gets underway.

“Everybody is aware. Nobody is careless,” he says. “We all know how important it is, and we all want to stay away from that possibility [of a positive test]. Even if it happens, we'll have a plan for it. Everything will be done to make sure we minimize the risk. The NHL had zero positive cases from the moment they got in the bubble, so we don't see why it cannot be the same for us.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT COVID-19 PROTOCOLS FOR SELECTION CAMP

This will certainly be an IIHF World Junior Championship for the history books, with all 28 games taking place at one venue and no fans in attendance.

So while the in-arena atmosphere will be much different, the game on the ice remains the same, as does the opportunity to be part of a Canadian holiday hockey tradition. And as the bench boss points out, the eyes of Canadian hockey fans will still be focused on the Alberta capital, perhaps this year more than ever.

“We're all excited and we're all willing to go the extra mile,” Tourigny says. “[The coaches and players] want to get back at it. They want to have an opportunity. It's true we'll not be in front of fans, but at the same time, we'll have many, many millions of people watching the game [on TSN/RDS]. So we're not in front of people, but we are. They're not in the building, but they're watching. I think we all know how important it is for our country.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
dsaillant@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

 

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