One year after their worst-ever showing at the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, Hockey Canada is returning to the Czech Republic with gold on their minds. The 2017 edition of Canada’s under-18 national men’s team was announced earlier this week by Hockey Canada as the organization hopes to put last year’s fifth-place finish in their rear-view mirror.
Returning to the Canadian roster for the second time, the first player ever to do so, is Saint John Sea Dogs forward Joe Veleno.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be satisfied with fifth place,” Veleno told NHL.com. “Obviously you want to be satisfied with first. I’m going to erase everything that happened last year and start from scratch. We’re going to bring some new blood and new experience onto the ice.”
The Canadian roster features 22 players born in 2000, with 21 players eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft and one, forward Nolan Foote, eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft due to his late birthday. Veleno will don the C as the club’s captain, with Ty Smith and Jett Woo serving as alternates. The team is an almost even split between Canada’s three major-junior leagues: eight from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, seven from the Ontario Hockey League, six from the Western Hockey League and one from junior A’s Ontario Junior Hockey League.
They’re Not Huge
Head coach Brent Kisio and Canada’s management team has seemingly opted to emphasize speed and puck possession with their roster and systems. The team is punctuated with smaller, mobile players, with few big bodies and several players standing less than 5’10” tall. Hockey Canada also bet heavily on players with previous international experience with the organization at either the World Under-17 Challenge or the Under-18 World Championship. The only player without previous international tournament experience is forward Gabriel Fortier.
Arguably the team’s most potent weapons are on the blueline; in addition to Smith and Woo, Ryan Merkley and Jared McIsaac also impressed during the selection camp and will be counted upon to pitch in on both sides of the puck. The downside of this year’s crop of small, speedy defensemen are the obvious questions about where the scoring is going to come from for Canada. The pressure is definitely on to improve upon 2016’s performance and bring a medal home, ideally gold, from this year’s Ivan Hlinka event.
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.