Long Road to Roster Spot for Speers
BOISBRIAND, Que. — Blake Speers couldn’t sit still late on Wednesday night.
“I was shaking the entire time,” Speers said. “To find out the final roster was made and you were still on it was a great feeling.”
It’s one that Speers, a New Jersey Devils prospect who plays for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, was not convinced he was going to be able to experience.
Speers had a solid selection camp, but so did the majority of forwards this past week. So tight was the competition for jobs throughout the roster that a couple of Hockey Canada officials said they couldn’t remember another time that the decisions on the five final cuts were as close.
For weeks, Speers lived with the unsettling idea that he might not be part of Hockey Canada’s plans at all.
On Oct. 27, in his first game back with the Greyhounds after he was returned to junior by the Devils, Speers slid into the boards and suffered broken scaphoid bone in his right wrist.
Speers had surgery on Halloween. The good luck was that he was able to skate, missing only 12 days before he was back on the ice.
Still, there were no guarantees for the 19-year-old forward.
“All of a sudden, I’m hearing I could be out two-to-three months and my world-junior dreams are dashed,” Speers said. “I had worked to get myself in the picture and I could lose it just like that.
“I did not see the surgeon until three or four days after it happened, and he told me there was still a possibility I could be back in time.”
All the while, Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski was keeping his fingers crossed. Jankowski had seen Speers play late last season and was not overly impressed. Speers was put on Jankowski’s list of potentials for the world junior team, but was not invited to the summer camp.
Speers’ fate changed in September. Jankowski took a break from the World Cup of Hockey and hit the road to Buffalo, where he saw Speers play for the Devils in a rookie game versus the Sabres.
Speers was outstanding in that game, and he zoomed up Jankowski’s list.
Just over a month later, Speers got injured. Jankowski had to convince his bosses that Speers deserved to be at camp despite not having played in a game since the end of October.
“His energy, his effort, his hockey sense, and his skill — that’s what we have seen here,” Jankowski said.
“We talk about players who face adversity, and he basically said he’s going to do whatever he can to make the world junior team.”
Spears knows hard work remains.
“What a roller-coaster it has been for me,” Speers said. “With all the work that went into getting (his wrist) ready and being able to compete, (Wednesday) night was probably the best night of my life.”
NO RUSH TO NAME CAPTAIN, ALTERNATES
Don’t hand those letters out just yet.
The captain and alternates for Canada at the 2017 world junior are to be determined.
“We’re going to take our time,” Hockey Canada vice-president of hockey operations Scott Salmond said on Thursday.
“We want to learn some things in Tremblant, see some people out of their comfort zones. We’re going to get it right.”
The favourite to be named captain is returning centre Dylan Strome, while Noah Juulsen, Thomas Chabot, Mathew Barzal, Julien Gauthier and Mitchell Stephens likely are among those who will be considered for alternates.
The expectation is Canada will name a captain and alternates during the weekend, before an exhibition game on Monday versus Finland.
Canada’s 22-player roster for the 2017 world junior championship (with uniform number, height, weight, birthday, home town, club team, NHL rights):
1. Connor Ingram, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, March 31, 1997, Imperial, Sask., Kamloops (WHL), Tampa Bay
31. Carter Hart, 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Aug. 13, 1998, Sherwood Park, Alta., Everett (WHL), Philadelphia
2. Jake Bean, 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, June 9, 1998, Calgary, Calgary (WHL), Carolina
3. Noah Juulsen, 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, April 2, 1997, Abbotsford, B.C., Everett (WHL), Montreal
5. Thomas Chabot*, 6-foot-2, 188 pounds, Jan. 30, 1997, Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, Que., Saint John (QMJHL), Ottawa
6. Philippe Myers, 6-foot-4, 206 pounds, Jan. 25, 1997, Moncton, N.B., Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL), Philadelphia
8. Dante Fabbro, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, June 20, 1998, Coquitlam, B.C., Boston University (NCAA), Nashville
10. Kale Clague, 6 feet, 177 pounds, June 5, 1998, Lloydminster, Alta., Brandon (WHL), Los Angeles
15. Jeremy Lauzon, 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, April 28, 1997, Val-d’Or, Que., Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL), Boston
9. Dillon Dube, 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, July 20, 1998, Cochrane, Alta., Kelowna (WHL), Calgary
11. Mathieu Joseph, 6-foot-1, 171 pounds, Feb. 9, 1997, Chambly, Que., Saint John (QMJHL), Tampa Bay
12. Julien Gauthier*, 6-foot-4, 224 pounds, Oct. 15, 1997, Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que., Val-d’Or (QMJHL), Carolina
14. Mathew Barzal*, Six feet, 187 pounds, May 26, 1997, Coquitlam, B.C., Seattle (WHL), N.Y. Islanders
16. Taylor Raddysh, 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Feb. 18, 1998, Caledon, Ont., Erie (OHL), Tampa Bay
17. Tyson Jost, 6 feet, 190 pounds, March 17, 1998, Kelowna, B.C., North Dakota (NCAA), Colorado
18. Pierre-Luc Dubois, 6-foot-3, 202 pounds, June 24, 1998, Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL), Columbus
19. Dylan Strome*, 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, March 7, 1997, Mississauga, Ont., Erie (OHL), Arizona
20. Michael McLeod, 6-foot-2, 187 pounds, Feb. 3, 1998, Mississauga, Ont., Mississauga (OHL), New Jersey
21. Blake Speers, 6 feet, 184 pounds, Jan. 2, 1997, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Sault Ste. Marie (OHL), New Jersey
22. Anthony Cirelli, 6 feet, 165 pounds, July 15, 1997, Woodbridge, Ont., Oshawa (OHL), Tampa Bay
25. Nicolas Roy, 6-foot-4, 202 pounds, Feb. 5, 1997, Amos, Que., Chicoutimi (QMJHL), Carolina
27. Mitchell Stephens*, 6 feet, 195 pounds, Feb. 5, 1997, Peterborough, Ont., Saginaw (OHL), Tampa Bay
* — member of 2016 world junior team
Canada’s exhibition schedule and preliminary-round schedule:
Dec. 19 — vs. Finland, 7 p.m., Bell Centre, Montreal
Dec. 21 — vs. Czech Republic, 7 p.m., Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa
Dec. 23 — vs. Switzerland, 7 p.m., Air Canada Centre, Toronto
PRELIMINARY ROUND (games at Air Canada Centre, Toronto)
Dec. 26 — vs. Russia, 8 p.m.
Dec. 27 — vs. Slovakia, 8 p.m.
Dec. 29 — vs. Latvia, 8 p.m.
Dec. 31 — vs. United States, 3:30 p.m.