Thursday morning, Hockey Canada announced Team Canada West’s 22-man roster for the 2012 World Junior ‘A’ Challenge. Four out of the six Vees invited to camp made the cut. Troy Stecher, James de Haas, Wade Murphy and Mike Rebry will suit up for Team West. Chad Katunar and Dexter Dancs were the camp cuts but will be leading the Vees this Saturday against Chilliwack.
Congratulations to Stecher, de Haas, Murphy and Rebry for making the team and representing the Vees in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. It’s a thrill for these 18 & 19 year-old players to wear the maple leaf sweater; must be psyched I’m sure. Stecher might be leaned on for advice as he played for TCW last year when they won gold in Langley. Stecher found out firsthand that players might be put into unfamiliar roles. Stecher was not used heavily on the blue-line in 2011 but as he said, it’s about accepting the role your given and trying to help the team anyway you can. What type of roles will the four Vees be given? How will they factor into the big picture?
All good questions but at this point your guess is as good as mine. We can’t go into the West “war room” and see exactly what they have planned or whom they penciled in for what role. However by judging their performances to date, I can slap together an educated guess.
On the blue-line, two Vees might have a significant role to play. Stecher and de Haas are partners for the Vees and time will tell if they pair up with one another for TCW. Stecher is arguably one of, if not the best defensemen in the BCHL. Last year, as a 17 year-old, Stecher played the most out of any Vees D-man, won an RBC Cup and was named the Top Defenseman at the tournament in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. Yes the same town where Canada West Head Coach Dean Brockman coaches. Brockman has a pretty good idea of Stecher’s abilities and I’m sure we will see Stecher in a much larger role than he had one year ago.
de Haas is an interesting story in his own right, as he was actually cut from Team Canada East camp last season; East went on to lose the gold medal game to West. Since then, de Haas has been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, traded to the Vees and plays with Stecher as part of the Vees top D-pair; not bad. By all accounts de Haas had himself a solid camp, picking up a couple of points as his team went 2-0 in intrasquad play. He’s an interesting talent, one who can contribute at both ends of the ice. If you need him to play the point on the power-play or be a net front presence in the defensive zone, he can be the guy; a defenseman with plenty of tools. I’ve seen his confidence grow over his first two months and with that more confidence on the puck (see goal versus West Kelowna). I wouldn’t be surprised if de Haas and Stecher are paired together, as it’s a natural fit and there’s no issue of trying to develop chemistry in a short period of time.
Six of the eight defensemen on Canada West are BCHL’ers, with Paul Stoykewych (MJHL) and Josh Healey (AJHL) the exceptions. Stecher and de Haas are joined by Luke Ripley (Powell River), Nolan De Jong (Victoria) and Devon Toews (Surrey). It’s a big D-core with only three of the eight under 6’ and the smallest, Stecher, is still 5’10. This might just be Canada West’s strong suit. I like the mix, as far as the BCHL’ers go, as they play a well-balanced game; all six can bring something to the table.
You know what you’re getting with Wade Murphy, as his selection is no surprise. The Vees right-winger leads the BCHL in scoring and might be considered an MVP candidate at the quarter-way mark. Murphy was solid at camp, scoring twice in team Blue’s only win and basically was doing the same things he does in the BCHL. I see Murphy having a lead role when it comes to providing offense for West. Murphy will likely see minutes on the top-line and power-play unit. With the surprise omission of talented Adam Tambellini, Murphy will be under a bigger microscope; plenty of NHL eyes will be watching this tournament. Who will Murphy play with? Well his regular line-mate has been Mike Rebry and the two are a dynamic pairing on the penalty-kill. Murphy will have plenty of talented teammates outside of Rebry to be paired up with. Interesting note is Murphy wasn’t even a camp invite last October when he was still with the Victoria Grizzlies. His line-mate and good friend Wesley Myron did make the team. Murphy, Myron and Mike Moran (remember him?) were a dangerous trio for Victoria, as all three were in the top five in league scoring at one point. It goes to show what a calendar year of hockey Murphy has had. I’m guessing we will see plenty of 21, yes not 12, on the ice for TCW.
Rebry can flat-out skate and might be a forward that is put in various roles throughout the tournament. Rebry in his time in Penticton has proven to be a versatile player, getting time on the power-play and penalty-kill, along with playing four-on-four, three-on-three and whatever else you can think of. Rebry is also a very strong face-off man and that skill is invaluable at this level. I expect him to have a chance at playing with Murphy and might be counted on for key face-offs throughout the tournament. Also don’t be surprised if he is pegged as one of TCW’s penalty-killers and key fore-checkers. I like his speed but more importantly his hustle and that’s what has caused so many problems for the opposition. Rebry could be used to check other teams top-lines based on his quickness and tenacity.
There are lots of weapons upfront for TCW, outside of Murphy and Rebry, as they have Alex Kerfoot, Evan Richardson, Evan Tironese and Seb Lloyd from the BCHL. Rhyse Dieno (12-9-21) is putting up solid numbers in the SJHL, and injury replacement TJ Reeve was a bright-spot at camp and has nine goals in 11 games for Melville. West has the sandpaper element with the likes of Brandon Morley, Aaron Hadley and Zachary Pryzbek. Morley despite his size, loves to be physical and Hadley is one of the best checking forwards in the BCHL. I haven’t seen Pryzbek play but he’s a big body (6’3 / 197) and will be asked to use all of it.
Chad Katunar looks like he was caught in a numbers game. The Vees goaltender, being 19, was going to be in tough to get a spot. Remember, only five 19 year-olds are allowed to be on the roster, two of which going to Murphy and Rebry. The goalies that did make it are both 94’s and it appears that was the direction TCW wanted to go in; younger in-goal, older upfront. A few of my colleagues reached out to me this morning, saying they were surprised he didn’t make it. It could be quite simply Katunar was just OK this week and Curtis Skip and Jonah Imoo had terrific camps. That’s the funny thing about camps like these, it’s a short window to impressive and making it or being cut, can be the difference of one practice or intrasquad game. The silver-lining is the fact Katunar will be available for Saturday’s game against the Chiefs and the Vees might just have a goaltender with a chip on his shoulder, and that’s a good thing.
Dexter Dancs, only being 17, was in tough to earn a spot on this year’s roster. Dancs spoke candidly about using the camp as a learning experience and a chance to better himself as a player, when I chatted with him prior to leaving. Dancs will be on the radar for next season, and will have better chance of cracking the roster with a year of BCHL seasoning.
From Hockey Canada:
Every game (except the gold medal game, which will be broadcast on TSN/RDS) will be available via webcast for free, as long as fans follow three easy steps:
STEP 1: Visit hockeycanada.fasthockey.com and sign up for a free FASTHockey account.
STEP 2: Like the World Junior A Challenge on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wjrac.
STEP 3: When it’s game time, click the HC on FASTHockey link on the WJAC Facebook page and enjoy!
Since the first World Junior A Challenge in 2006 in Yorkton and Humboldt, Sask., more than 100 NHL draft picks have played in the tournament, including 18 first-round selections (Beau Bennett, Alexander Burmistrov, Joe Colborne, Nikita Filatov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Dmitri Kulikov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Hampus Lindholm, John Moore, Vladislav Namestnikov, Riley Nash, Dylan Olsen, Jordan Schmaltz, Jaden Schwartz, Brendan Smith, Kyle Turris, Andrei Vasilevski and Nail Yakupov).
Who will be the breakout star at this year’s tournament? Tune in to the 2012 World Junior A Challenge on FASTHockey beginning Nov. 5 and find out!