Junior snub drives 67's Cuma

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Tyler Cuma is all about the stats. Not his, but those of others.

In 22 games this season, the 67’s co-captain has racked up one goal, seven assists, Taylor Hall and a number of the OHL’s other star forwards.

Cuma, a Minnesota Wild first-round pick from the 2008 draft, is carving a niche for himself as a top-flight, shut-down defenceman.

“In the last month, he’s been as good as it gets in our league, that I’ve seen, at being able to go up against top lines and just take key players from other teams out of the equation,” said 67’s coach Chris Byrne, whose squad has won 8-of-9 heading into Friday's meeting with the Owen Sound Attack at the Urbandale Centre. “He’s relished the role and done a really good job of not worrying about his own stats, but how the team is doing.”

Hall, who leads the league with 53 points in 30 games and should go either first or second in next spring’s NHL draft, managed just two assists as the Windsor Spitfires scored 11 goals in splitting two games with the 67’s.

Plymouth’s Tyler Seguin, Hall’s chief competition to go first overall, is fourth in OHL scoring with 43 points, but has only a goal and an assist in two games versus Ottawa.

And the Kitchener Rangers’ dominant offensive weapons — Chris MacKinnon, Jeremy Morin and Jeff Skinner — were relatively quiet in a 6-3 loss to the 67’s Nov. 22.

“He’s ate ’em all up,” Byrne said of Cuma.

All of which make his exclusion from Team Canada’s world junior selection camp quite surprising.

It’s believed Cuma would have made last year’s team had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury in an evaluation scrimmage. That he was an assistant captain for Team OHL in the Super Series exhibition against the Russian Selects only confirmed Cuma is highly regarded outside Ottawa as well.

“I really don’t know the real reason behind the whole (Team Canada) thing,” said Cuma, who was clearly hurt by the snub. “I know I started off the season slow, but I thought from the end of October on, I was doing all right and I’d at least get an invite.

“It’s never fun getting rejected from a Team Canada thing, especially in the last year you could possibly make it. It sucks kind of having your dreams just thrown out the window like that. But there isn’t anything I can do about it now.”

Ottawa winger Tyler Toffoli was also overlooked, despite the fact he’s one of the hottest juniors in the country and has 16 goals and 15 assists.

“There’s lots of good players ... what are you going to do?” said Byrne. “With however many gold medals they’ve won in a row, you can’t argue with what they’re doing. Not an easy job for them to pick guys. Someone’s left off. It’s just tough when it’s your guys.”

Cuma, who said his main focus now is “to make Minnesota as soon as I can,” said the rejection will light a fire in his belly for the remainder of the season.

“I don’t put up a lot of points, my stats aren’t exactly the greatest, but if I can chip in a few assists here and there, it’s an extra bonus,” said Cuma. “My main focus is playing defence. We have forwards who can put the puck in the net. If I’m shutting down the other team’s top lines, it gives our forwards a lot more opportunity to do what they can do.

“Every game there’s a forward or two that they look to me to shut down, so I make sure I do that.”

Ice chips

F Dalton Smith is expected to miss Friday night's game with an injury, but could play Sunday when the 67’s host Mississauga ... G Chris Perugini will start for Ottawa Friday night.


Photos