CALGARY - Maybe Don Hay is a big believer in rep by pop.
His Team Canada, selected here Wednesday, is very much a Canadian team that way.
There are only five players from the WHL, 11 from the OHL, three from the Quebec league in addition to two on loan from NHL teams and one from U.S. college hockey.
This isn’t the way it often works when the head coach is from the West and the tournament is in the West. It’s generally expected when the coach is from the West and the event is in the West that a significant percentage of the players would be from the West. Brendan Gallagher, who plays for the Vancouver Giants team coached by Don Hay, was flabbergasted by that suggestion.
“Don is the most competitive guy I’ve ever met,” he exclaimed.
“Where guys come from or anything like that would never enter his mind. What league, what province or what city would never enter his mind. The only thing that he cares about is winning.”
Indeed. When asked about selecting only one Albertan, Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Mark Pysyk of Sherwood Park, Hay did a double take.
“Only one player?” he said, genuinely surprised that was the case.
Hay then shrugged and laughed.
“I don’t care where they’re born as long as they come from Canada. In 1995 when I last coached the team, the tournament was in Alberta and we had a lot of Western guys on the team,” he said of the lockout year when the team took gold.
“It depends on where the talent is deepest. All we looked at was picking the 22 players who would give us the best chance to win. I guess the majority of them happened to be from Ontario.”
So what kind of team did Hay, Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast, the coaching staff and rest of the brain trust select in an attempt to get back to winning gold medals again, after a five-year run of championships was interrupted by silver medals the last two years?
What will be the identity of this group, which could have been the most amazing of all time if WJHC eligible Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyler Seguin, Sean Couturier, Ryan Johansen, Erik Gudbranson and Jeff Skinner weren’t playing in the NHL?
“I think it’s a mix of skill and hard work,” said Prendergast. “I think we have three defenceman who are the stay-at-home style and four who move the puck. I think we have six skill forwards and six defensive forwards.”
The biggest surprise might have been Tyler Bunz, the St. Albert native and Edmonton Oilers draft choice who plays for the Medicine Hat Tigers. He was beat out by Scott Wedgewood, the OHL Plymouth Whalers netminder and New Jersey draft to be No. 2 to returning netminder Mark Visentin, of the colossal third-period collapse in the gold-medal game last year.
“That was probably the closest competition. There was very slight separation,” said Predergast. “From Christmas to Christmas Bunz was probably the most consistent and top goaltender of them all. But Wedgewood had a better camp.”
So who was the Ryan Smyth on this team, the bubble boy, the 13th forward to match Captain Canada, who Hay took last when he last coached the team in 1995?
Tanner Pearson, the only 2012 draft-eligible forward on the team, has the honour.
“I think we looked at the teams we have to play and the skill and the fact he leads the OHL in scoring,” said Hay of the Barrie Colts product out of Kitchener, who has 26 goals and 66 points in 30 games this season.
Did Hay pick a perfect pack of players to go for gold?
The fear with this team is the lack of World Junior experience, with only four players back from last year — none of them on defence — big questions in how physical this team will be able to play and the lack of good play-making centres to get the puck to talented wingers.
But there’s no question the players were selected for all the right reasons.
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