Canada picks Delly
A long shot? Yes. Surprising? Basically. A bombshell? Pretty much.
Shake it any way you'd like. Stefan Della Rovere is playing for Team Canada. That's all that really matters now.
The 18-year-old Barrie Colts captain was one of 12 forwards selected yesterday to represent the nation at the world junior hockey championship in Ottawa later this month. He's one of six OHL players in a mix of 22 on the roster.
If this is a red-and-white dream for Della Rovere -- who was hardly on Hockey Canada's radar a month ago -- he can wake up now.
"It's a feeling you can't even imagine," the Maple native said from the nation's capital yesterday, where he'll chase a fifth straight gold for Canada beginning Dec. 26, under the guidance of head coach Pat Quinn. "It's a great honour. You always dream about putting on your country's sweater. It hasn't even sunk in yet."
The Washington Capitals draft pick follows in the recent footsteps of a pair of former Colts captains. Bryan Little won gold with Canada in 2007, while Tomas Marcinko suited up for Slovakia last year.
Della Rovere handed over his usual No. 19 to superstar John Tavares yesterday. He opted for No. 15 instead.
"I couldn't care less what number I wear," the Colts leading scorer said. "I'm not going to argue about that. I'm just happy to be here."
Indeed, the gritty winger was nearly left off the Canada-Russia Challenge OHL roster last month. He joined the squad in place of an injured player. Della Rovere might be the biggest surprise inclusion on a team that features one less forward and an additional defenceman this time around.
"The coaches said they were looking for a power forward who could throw the body around and be a bit of a grinder," Della Rovere said. "I knew I had a chance if I just went in here and did what I do best.
"With (the tournament) being hosted in Canada, I couldn't pick a better time to make the team," the 200-pounder added. "It's honestly a dream come true for me, and I plan on doing everything I can to help this team, because some people say this is the hardest trophy to win in all of hockey. Every game is big. One bad game will cost you, but we want to keep the streak going."
Della Rovere's name was a buzz word at the Barrie Molson Centre yesterday afternoon as his teammates laced up for practice. Many Colts were busy sending congratulatory text messages to their teammate throughout the day.
"You sort of take pride that you play with him," said Colts goalie Michael Hutchinson, who has a stall beside the captain in the team's dressing room. "He was optimistic going into camp, knowing that he was bringing a different element than a lot of other players. We all felt his chances were really good, and we're all ecstatic."
Veteran defenceman Kyle van de Bospoort has played alongside Della Rovere for the past two-and-a-half years. The Pickering native thinks Quinn and Co. were wise to pick his teammate, even though the selection may have raised the brows of some.
"In the grand scheme of things, it's a surprise, but we knew he could do it," the overager said. "I think he's the only one of his kind there. He plays a physical, grinder-type game, so we figured he could do it, and he did.
"That rink in Ottawa is not terribly big," van de Bospoort added. "He's going to put some terror into the hearts of those European countries."
Despite initially being kept off the OHL roster for the Canada-Russia showcase series, Della Rovere found his way into a game, and, obviously, made an impression Nov. 24 in St. Catharines.
While he won't be the most skilled player on a national team that also includes OHL forwards Tavares and Cody Hogdson, Colts forward Alex Hutchings figures the size of his teammate's heart is what not only won over the Team Canada brass, but has also brought him so much success in the past year.
"Even his draft status, he went in the seventh round to Washington," the Colts assistant captain said. "And now look at it. Everyone's very happy for him. Everyone's thrilled that he's going to be representing his country."
That Della Rovere has seemingly silenced any of his critics with his hard-nosed, workmanlike approach this season is just an example of the kind of player he is, said Colts head coach Marty Williamson, who coached the former first-round pick when Ontario's under-17 team won gold two years ago at the Canada Winter Games.
"He's been a gem for us the whole year, and I think he really deserved an opportunity like this," Williamson said. "He's not as talented as the Tavares' and some of the others, but he's a guy that you want on your team. There's no classier kid, and that's why he's our captain."
An example of Della Rovere's attitude came early yesterday morning when the team's leader started fielding messages.
"Typical Delly, he was talking to (van de Bospoort) and he was more concerned about asking about our games," the coach said. "Bossy was busy congratulating him, and Delly was asking about how our game went against Kingston. He's just always got his head in the right place, and he'll be a great addition to that team."
Windsor Spitfires defenceman Ryan Ellis will be the first 17-year-old defenceman to play for the Canadian junior team since Jay Bouwmeester in 2001. He's expected to be a power-play specialist.
Also, Montreal Junior forward Angelo Esposito was named to the team on his fourth try after he was cut three previous years.
Chet Pickard of the Tri-City Americans and Dustin Tokarski of the Spokane Chiefs will be Canada's goaltenders.
The forwards are Esposito, Hodgson, Tavares, Medicine Hat's Tyler Ennis, Jamie Benn of the Kelowna Rockets, Zach Boychuk of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Patrice Cormier of the Rimouski Oceanic, Della Rovere, Chris DiDomenico of the Saint John Sea Dogs, Jordan Eberle of the Regina Pats, Brett Sonne of the Calgary Hitmen, and Dana Tyrell of the Prince George Cougars.
The eight defencemen are Ellis, Keith Aulie of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Cody Goloubef of the Wisconsin Badgers, Thomas Hickey of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Kelowna's Tyler Myers, Alex Pietrangelo of the Niagara Icedogs, P. K. Subban of the Belleville Bulls and Regina's Colten Teubert.
The world under-20 championship is a tournament for the world's best 19-year-olds, but eight of the Canadians are 18 and Ellis pulls the average age down farther.
Ten players were drafted in the first round of the NHL draft in either 2007 or 2008. Tavares and Ellis are eligible for the 2009 draft.
Canada opens the tournament Boxing Day against the Czech Republic.
Cut Monday were goaltenders Tyson Sexsmith and Jake Allen, defencemen Travis Hamonic, Kevin Marshall, Patrick Wiercioch, Jared Spurgeon, Brendan Smith and Tyler Cuma, plus forwards Evander Kane, Riley Nash, Jamie Arniel, Nazem Kadri, Matt Duchene, Brayden Schenn, Taylor Hall and Matt Calvert.
Cuma suffered a knee injury in the first intrasquad game of selection camp, and Calvert was never able to play because of a back injury he suffered prior to camp.
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Born:Feb. 25, 1990
Height:Five feet, 11 inches Weight:200 pounds
OHL:Barrie's first-round pick in 2006 OHL Priority Selection (16th overall)
NHL:Drafted in the seventh round (204th overall) by the Washington Capitals in the 2008 entry draft Career OHL stats:39 goals, 41 assists, 80 points, 301 PIM