Only 71 days remains before the start of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. And with little more than two months separating Dec. 1 and the beginning of the Olympics, Hockey Canada is continuing to firm up what its men’s roster could look like when the tournament in South Korea rolls around.
The process of whittling down the talent pool has already begun, of course, by way of three pre-Olympic tournaments. First came the Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov. Next, the Sochi Hockey Open, and, in November, a team was sent to the Karjala Cup. And in two weeks’ time, Canada will again be sending its some of its best from the non-NHL talent pool to the Channel One Cup in Moscow, which runs Dec. 13-17, and the roster could give us our clearest picture yet as to who will and won’t be in Pyeongchang come February. In fact, there are 16 players returning from Canada’s past outing at the Karjala Cup, and chances are those returnees are well on their way to making the Olympic squad.
Among the notables brought back are forwards Wojtek Wolski, Gilbert Brule, Brandon Kozun, Eric O’Dell and Rob Klinkhammer, as well as defensemen Maxim Noreau, Mat Robinson, Chay Genoway and Karl Stollery, plus goaltender Ben Scrivens. Once the Channel One Cup is complete, all nine players will have taken part in three pre-Olympic tournaments, and their continued presence with the national team would seem to indicate they’ll be sticking around for Pyeongchang. Each has certainly made their case, too, by producing offensively in their appearances, while Scrivens is a near no-doubter as he’s been the No. 1 in both the Karjala Cup and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov. His numbers may not be world-beating — he has an .896 save percentage in nearly 300 minutes of play — but that he’s being brought along a third time is an indication he’s being prepared for Olympic duty.
Also getting the call for consecutive tournaments are forwards Linden Vey, Rene Bourque, Teddy Purcell and Matt Ellison, while defensemen Chris Lee and Simon Despres will also suit up once again. For all six, the Channel One Cup is their second audition. Ellison was the somewhat surprising standout of the group at the Karjala Cup with a goal and two points, while Lee and Despres logged solid minutes on the back end. After an outstanding season in the KHL in 2016-17 and a place on the World Championship team, it’d be safe to assume Lee will be coming along to Pyeongchang.
More interesting than the decisions that have seemingly been made, though, are those that are still up in the air, and it appears there may be no bigger indecision than who will share the crease with Scrivens in Pyeongchang. Through the three pre-Olympic tournaments, Canada has used two additional netminders, Kevin Poulin and Justin Peters, but a third, journeyman Barry Brust, is coming into the mix at the Channel One Cup. Poulin’s numbers — an .897 SP in 119 minutes — all but ensure he won’t be the backup, but the play of Peters, who stopped all but one of the 36 shots he faced at the Sochi Hockey Open and backed up Scrivens at the Karjala Cup, will put pressure on Brust to perform if he wants the spot.
Canada will also bring along two fresh faces up front at the Channel One Cup, players familiar to the NHL, in P-A Parenteau and Matt Frattin. A recent arrival in the KHL, Parenteau has impressed with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, putting up two goals and nine points in eight games through his first run with a Russian outfit. As for Frattin, he’s been putting up strong numbers in the KHL, 11 goals and 26 points in 29 games, and earned himself this first look with his play for Barys Astana.
In addition, Canada is bringing back several players who didn’t suit up at the Karjala Cup but were involved in either the Sochi Hockey Open or Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov, including forwards Derek Roy, Taylor Beck, Max Talbot and Ryan Garbutt, as well as defenders Shawn Lalonde and Stefan Elliott. For a few, including Talbot, Garbutt, Beck, Lalonde and Elliott, this will be another opportunity to prove their worth, but one has to assume Roy, if healthy, is a lock. During his lone appearance for Canada, Roy picked up two assists in three games and his wealth of NHL experience certainly helps his case.
With some turnover from the Karjala Cup, though, Canada has had to trim their roster and leave several players off the squad. Those missing who attended the previous tournament are forwards Mason Raymond, Nick Spaling, Andrew Ebbett, Christian Thomas and Quinton Howden, rearguards Jesse Blacker, Geoff Kinrade and Zach Whitecloud, as well as Peters, who is out so as to make room for Brust to attend.
However, chances are we see at least a couple of those left off the Channel One Cup squad get the call when the Spengler Cup rolls around on Christmas.
While he didn’t produce any offense at the Karjala Cup, one would assume that Raymond is one player who will be in attendance at the Spengler and, chances are, he’ll make his way onto the Olympic roster. At the Sochi Hockey Open, Raymond was excellent and he’s put up nine goals and 17 points in 16 games in the Swiss League this season. His offense, and speed, will be assets for Canada. Likewise, it wouldn’t be surprising were Ebbett to get the call again by Pyeongchang. He’s having a great season in the Swiss League, scoring nine goals and 30 points in 25 games, and has an alternate captain of the Spengler Cup team last season, producing four goals and eight points in five games en route to the championship.
There are a few others one should expect to see on the roster by the time the Spengler rolls around, too. Peters’ play suggests he might be the frontrunner for the backup gig, while Kinrade and Blacker could earn spots on the blueline if one opens up. If the injured Daniel Paille can heal up in time, he could also be in the mix for the Spengler roster. He’s participated at the tournament previously. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, NCAA standout Dylan Sikura, who has seven goals and 16 points in 11 games for Northeastern, is expected to get the call, as well. The same goes for Jake Evans, who is having a whale of a season — six goals and 25 points in 19 games — captaining Notre Dame.
The results of the Channel One Cup could go a long way in determining who stays and who goes in time for the Spengler Cup, though. And those on the bubble could punch their ticket to Pyeongchang with a standout performance.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.