Just last week, Canadian hockey fans weren’t feeling overly confident of Team Canada’s chances at winning gold in the 2012 World Juniors. Only Quinton Howden, Jaden Schwartz, and Mark Visentin were returning for a second shot at gold, and with countries such as the United States prepared to have a solid veteran core, some hockey fans weren’t convinced Canada would even get a medal. With the announcement on December 9th that meant Brett Connolly and Devante Smith-Pelly would be loaned to Team Canada by their respective NHL clubs, Canadian fans began to believe. Those two players have lifted the country’s confidence, but also raised expectations.
Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is positive that he made the right decision in loaning Connolly to Team Canada, saying this about the former Prince George Cougar:
“I don’t see it as a step back,” Yzerman told the St. Petersburg Times of his decision. “It’s important for these young guys to play in these big events in pressure games. They make you better. We still want him here, but what’s best for Brett Connolly in the long run is best for us all. I’m confident this is the right thing for him.”
Connolly made the Canadian team last year, and recorded three assists in seven games. A native of Campbell River, British Colombia, Connolly has spent each of the past four seasons prior to this one with Prince George of the WHL. With the Lightning this season, Brett has scored four goals and four assists and is a minus-1. While Tampa may have hoped for some more offense from him in the regular season, sending him to play in the World Juniors should give him a confidence boost, and hopefully spark some of his goal-scoring ability. Kevin Prendergast, the head scout for the men’s national team, says:
“They’re two quality young men and they bring different aspects to what we need for our team to be successful. Connolly brings an offensive threat. He’s creative, he’s got great hockey sense, he’s able to finish. Smith-Pelly’s going to bring a physical presence for us, which is something we’re really going to need.”
Devante Smith-Pelly opened a lot of eyes at Team Canada’s summer camp. He was a force on the ice, and that performance carried over to training camp with the Anaheim Ducks. His showing at Ducks camp earned him a spot on the big club, and he was averaging 10:51 in ice time in ice time per game before being loaned to Team Canada. Smith-Pelly has played 25 games with the Ducks and scored two goals and two assists this season. He’s a defensively responsible forward with decent touch around the net, so he should be able to bury a few pucks in the World Juniors. Like Yzerman, Anaheim GM Bob Murray believes this will be a great opportunity for his rookie professional:
“This is a great opportunity for Devante to continue his development,” Murray said in a news release. “Being a candidate for Team Canada in such a prestigious tournament is a great honour. He’s improving each day as an NHL player and we hope he can continue his progress after playing for his country. We fully expect him to play a prominent role in the upcoming tournament for Canada.”
Canadian hockey fans are expecting both Connolly and Smith-Pelly to play prominent roles in Alberta. The pair will likely play in the top-six forward lines, and they’ll be given plenty of chances to shine. Whenever Smith-Pelly has been asked lately about representing his country in the World Juniors, he can’t hide his excitement. “Not a lot of guys get a chance to play both in the NHL and in the world juniors and get to go back again,” he says, “I can’t stop saying how excited I am.” Anaheim Ducks star Ryan Getzlaf told Devante to “Go in there and be a leader, but don’t, under any circumstances, go in there thinking you’re better than anybody else.”
The 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships open on December 26th in Alberta.