Canadian players embrace new roles at world juniors
Instinct tells Anthony Camara he should be jumping over the boards when Canada goes on the power play.
But at the 2013 world junior championship, Camara gets a bird's-eye view from the bench.
Settling into new, sharper-defined roles in the tournament and getting less ice time than they do back home is all part of the world-junior experience for the Canadian players.
"The mental part is definitely the biggest thing about it," Camara, who has 11 power-play goals for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, said. "There's an adjustment because I've taken on a points role back in Barrie. I used to be an energy guy when I was in Saginaw (with the Spirit), and a couple of years I've (been among) the hardest hitters in the league, so I have that itch. I've had to get used to less ice time."
Players such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Ryan Strome, of course, don't have to worry about such things. They're with Canada to produce offence, and through the preliminary round, that was not an issue.
For some forwards and defencemen who have played for Hockey Canada in the under-17 or under-18 tournaments, adding new wrinkles to their game is something they know all about.
As head scout Kevin Prendergast criss-crossed Canada during the autumn months to study potential players for the junior team, he kept notes on those who he thought would be capable of re-defining themselves in a short span and do it well.
Each week, Hockey Canada officials, including Prendergast and head coach Steve Spott, would have a conference call to discuss the latest scouting reports.
Depending on the player, names would be weeded out or added to the list of definite possibilities. It wasn't just the players' on-ice performance that would be the deciding factor. If a kid had a reputation as being a bit of a jerk, or one that might ruffle some feathers with a reduced role, it wasn't going to happen for him with Hockey Canada.
The 23 players on Canada's roster might have egos, but you wouldn't know that here.
"Everyone is pulling on the same rope with the same goal, and you have to give up some of your personal success for team success," Spott said. "We're believers in communication, being an open book, and the players will never be able to leave this saying 'They never told us' or 'We didn't know.' They know what they have to do to play and help us win."
Some players would have been happy scraping the tape off the dressing room floor at the Ufa Arena had they been asked.
Forward JC Lipon, going into Wednesday's games, was fourth in scoring in the Western Hockey League with 57 points in 34 games for the Kamloops Blazers. Yet for Canada, he has been used in spot duty, put on the ice to energize his teammates.
Nothing has been handed to Lipon, passed over two years in the NHL draft, in hockey.
For Lipon and others, the experience at the world junior tournament can't help but make them more complete players. Nathan MacKinnon, who could dominate in the NHL one day, has been a fourth-line forward for Canada.
And it's not just forwards. Defenceman Ryan Murphy logs a lion's share of minutes with the Kitchener Rangers. After getting cut at the Canadian selection camp the past two years, Murphy gets power-play time but not a regular shift when the teams are at even-strength. Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors also has been seeing less ice than what he gets in the WHL.
"Moving on, if I ever play pro one day, I will be playing this role and I think I am capable of it," Lipon said. "Penalty killing is a big part of the game and blocking a shot should be like scoring a goal.
"I've learned over the years. You have to be ready when you get that call. It is good when I have sat eight minutes straight and (Spott) calls me for killing a penalty and he trusts me."
Forward Brett Ritchie has been tearing up the OHL with his Niagara IceDogs linemate, Strome, but not at the world junior, where they are on different lines.
"We all come from first lines, so you have to accept that there is only going to be three on that first line, so right away you are going to have a different role," Ritchie said.
"It's a cool part about playing for Team Canada. You embrace it."
Will Canada beat the U.S. in the world junior semifinal?
I don't know.