December 11, 2011
Forward progress for Team CanadaPair of NHLers excited to be in world junior fold
By SCOTT FISHER, QMI Agency
CALGARY - Brett Connolly received a nice sendoff from his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates.
Well, most of them.
“Pretty much all the guys were wishing me good luck,” Connolly said after touching down in Calgary Saturday for Team Canada’s world junior selection camp.
“All the Canadians want me to come back with a gold medal.
“Some of the Americans ... not so much.”
The Americans may not be too keen on seeing Connolly back at the world junior tournament.
But there are plenty of people walking around wearing Team Canada coats who can’t stop smiling after receiving early Christmas presents from the Lightning (Connolly) and the Anaheim Ducks (Devante Smith-Pelly).
Canadian bench boss Don Hay is among them.
“They’re a big addition to our group,” Hay said. “I think both of those players will have an impact.
“Brett made the team last year, so he’s a veteran presence.
“And Smith-Pelly was really good at (the summer evaluation camp). He’s a big, strong guy.”
While no player would willingly give up their spot on an NHL roster, neither player saw the world junior assignment as a demotion.
“I was excited,” said Connolly, who has four goals and eight points in 28 games with the Bolts this season.
“It was a little bitter-sweet, but it’s my second kick at the can.
“Last year obviously didn’t go the way we wanted.
“I can’t wait to get on the ice (Sunday) and get things started.”
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, the architect of Canada’s Olympic gold-medal winning team at the Vancouver Games, is a big believer in Hockey Canada’s ability to develop players.
And Connolly said he thinks playing a large role on this year’s squad will help him become a better player.
“I talked to Mr. Yzerman and he wants me to develop,” said the Prince George, B.C., product who was the sixth overall selection in 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
“He thinks it’ll be good for me and so do I. It’s a great tournament and there’s a lot of good players.
“I want to be a leader. I want to be a go-to guy this year.”
Smith-Pelly showed up with the same attitude.
He didn’t make last year’s silver-medal club. So he’s not taking this opportunity for granted.
“(Ducks GM) Bob Murray pulled me into the room after a game and told me he’s going to give me a chance to go play for Canada,” Smith-Pelly said. “I wasn’t sure that was going to happen, but once he told me, I was pretty excited.
“I think it’s a good thing.
“The way (Murray) put it was he said ‘we want you to go and have a pretty big role there.
“And it’s your last chance to win something in junior.
“I’m happy to be here, for sure.”
The 5-foot-11, 211-pounder put up 21 points in 20 playoff games with the Memorial Cup host Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors last spring.
After his Majors lost out in the final, Smith-Pelly went to work.
By all accounts, he was the best player on the ice at this summer’s evaluation camp.
Smith-Pelly solid play didn’t stop there. He continued to open eyes at the Ducks’ camp and cracked the big-league lineup, where he posted three goals and five points in 26 games with Anaheim.
“Not making it last year was pretty disappointing,” Smith-Pelly said. “When I went to summer camp, my goal was to try to impress so that if I was in junior, (Team Canada officials) would have it in the backs of their minds that I was one of the best players there.
“Not a lot of guys get a chance to play in both the NHL and world juniors.
“So I can’t stop saying how excited I am.”