Junior team selection questioned

Morris Dalla Costa -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

It may be time to refine the way Canada's national junior team is selected. In fact, the way the U.S. selects its team is gaining a great deal of support. It's less disruptive for the players and their junior hockey clubs and far less emotionally draining for the players who battle for a spot on the roster only to be sent home.

"What difference are three or four days going to make?" asks Jacques Beaulieu, London Knights assistant coach. "For the most part they have, or should have, a pretty good idea of who is going to make the team."

Beaulieu is voicing a concern many hockey people have over the selection process. They don't believe a four-day December tryout camp is a benefit to anyone.

They may be right, especially the way this camp was scheduled.

The selection camp for the world junior championship in Grand Forks, N.D., is being held in Winnipeg. For many players that meant playing Friday and perhaps Saturday and leaving early Sunday to make a late practice in Winnipeg.

If Hockey Canada is bound and determined to run a selection camp, what would have been the harm in delaying the start of the camp until after the weekend? Teams would have had all their players until yesterday, which then would have been a travel day.

For Canadian junior hopefuls, the process began in the summer with an evaluation camp. Players are scouted through the year. Only 32 players were named to this week's camp.

On Thursday, coach Brent Sutter, his assistants and scouting staff will name the team. Ten players will be cut. London Knights Danny Syvret, Corey Perry and David Bolland and Londoner Jeff Carter of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are in camp. Carter is a returning player from last year's silver medal-winning team.

Beaulieu likes the U.S. model better.

USA Hockey named 12 players to its national team five weeks ago. They filled out their roster by naming the other 10 players last week. The Knights' Rob Schremp is one of those players.

You are named, you make it.

The argument against handing players a roster spot is there's no way to know how players will interact with each other. It removes a part of the competitive process, a process that allows a coach to judge how players react in a highly competitive environment.

"What are you going to see in three or four days?" said Beaulieu. "Blair Mackasey has scouted these guys all year. There may be one or two guys who might make the team off the selection camp but for everyone else it won't make much of a difference. There are 12 players from last year's team coming back and you've got to think they have a job."

Beaulieu believes the Canadian method of selection is unnecessarily difficult on all junior players who are cut.

"The kids come back and they're heart-broken," said Beaulieu, who witnessed how badly Perry felt when he was cut last year despite having scored a number of goals during intra-squad games. "We're left having to put the pieces back together again. This year, they'll be there with no one around, no coaches, no parents, no supporting cast to help them deal with it.

"Why don't they just pick the players who will make the team. That way it gives them more time to practise together as a team."

Beaulieu's solution is clean-cut.

"Name one goalie, four defencemen and six forwards early. Then around Dec. 10, fill out the roster with the other 11 players. Bring them together and let them play as a team."

It matters not what system is used. There is good and bad to every process and there will always be speculation and criticism about the final selections.

Most Canadian hockey players can live with the disappointment of not making a team. It's a lot harder for them to live with the idea they deserved a chance to make the team and never got it.


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