It’s rare that being woken up by a phone call leads to good news. The Canadian junior players who took the ceremonial mid-December media walk of shame are now well versed in the fury of the ringing phone.
The first round of players to get the axe at Canada’s World Junior camp was announced, with nine players receiving that dreaded call in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. The original selection camp roster of 40 players has now been trimmed to 31, and nine more cuts are expected Wednesday morning to finalize the roster heading into the pre-tournament games starting Monday against Sweden.
Of the nine players heading home Tuesday, two were defenceman. The spots open on the back end are sparse with Jared Cowan, Calvin de Haan, and Ryan Ellis returning from last year’s silver medal winning team, and 2010 third overall pick Erik Gudbranson maintaining his hulking presence.
The blueliners heading home were Brayden McNabb of the Kootenay Ice, and Jesse Blacker of the Owen Sound Attack. A handful of players are going back to Owen Sound, as Blacker will be joined by his teammates Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson, both forwards.
Hishon was selected 17th overall by the Avalanche last spring, and has 42 points over 22 game this season in Owen Sound. But with Canada traditional opting to play a highly physical game, Hishon’s lack of size was his undoing at camp. Like nearly every player cut from a world junior camp, the feeling was foreign.
“It’s definitely not a good feeling,” Hishon told the Globe and Mail. ”It’s probably the first time I’ve ever been cut by a team, but it’s hard to argue with Hockey Canada’s decision given their track record.”
The other forwards cut were Brad Ross of the Portland Winterhawks, Brandon Gallagher of the Vancouver Giants, Medicine Hat Tigers centre Linden Vey, and Chilliwack’s Ryan Howse.
Both of the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects in camp–Blacker and Ross–have now been sent home, along with one of the Montreal Canadiens hopefuls (Gallagher). Five of the players who are now home for the holidays were also from the Western Hockey League.
The door remains open for four underage players to make this year’s team, with head coach Dave Cameron choosing to keep Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Murray, Ryan Murphy, and Sean Couturier around for at least another day.
Couturier, who turned 18 in August, is the most coveted of the underagers, and was the top-ranked draft prospect in the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings in November. The Drummondville Voltigeurs forward scored 41 goals and 96 points over 68 games last year.
Traditionally Canada has taken only one underage player, a battle that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin fought last year. This year Couturier’s primary opponent is Nugent-Hopkins, the Red Deer Rebels forward who was ranked second overall by the International Scouting Services. Cameron has said previously that if he’s impressed enough by their ability to play in both ends of the rink, he’ll bring more than one young forward to Buffalo.
The battle for the remaining roster spots resumes tonight when the players left at Canada’s camp take on the Canadian University National Team.