Sports

WORLD JUNIOR

Canada makes cuts following exhibition romp

By Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun

Nick Baptiste of Team Canada tries to score against the CIS all-stars in Toronto on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. (Michael Peake/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)

Nick Baptiste of Team Canada tries to score against the CIS all-stars in Toronto on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. (Michael Peake/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)

Benoit Groulx couldn’t stifle a little chuckle on Sunday afternoon.

Asked about what he likes in forward Brayden Point, there was no hesitation from Canada’s coach for the 2015 world junior.

“A lot of things,” Groulx said. “He is playing with a lot of passion, he competes. He has a flair out there, a lot of anticipation, he has been good. He has been very good.”

Groulx could afford to exhale and enjoy the moment. He had just watched Point, on a line with centre Frederik Gauthier and left winger Nick Ritchie, completely dominate in a 6-0 Canada win against a team of university select players at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

The trio didn’t spend much time in the defensive zone, instead giving the opponent headaches as they continuously controlled the puck at the other end and created scoring chances.

Whether the three are kept together when Canada resumes practice on Monday in St. Catharines, Ont., remains to be seen. Groulx still is playing around with his lines, and has three fewer forwards to use following cuts on Sunday.

Groulx knows, though, that Point can put the puck in the net after watching the team’s smallest forward — Point comes in at 5-foot-8, 160 pounds — score two goals on Sunday. There’s the same kind of warm feeling with Jake Virtanen, who also scored twice and had an assist, giving him six points in the two weekend exhibition games.

“We want to see who is fitting with who,” Groulx said. “It’s still the beginning. There are a lot of different combinations and we have to try to find the best one. Keep in mind we were playing without (nine) guys.”

That’s true. Canada’s 22-player roster began to round into shape, and that was before defencemen Chris Bigras and Travis Sanheim and forwards Remi Elie, Morgan Klimchuk and Nick Baptiste were released.

If a player was scratched on Sunday, it was as close to an iron-clad guarantee he will get at this point that he has made the team. In that group were defencemen Josh Morrissey, Darnell Nurse and Madison Bowey, and forwards Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Nic Petan and Sam Reinhart.

Connor McDavid sat out as he recovers from a broken bone in his right hand, and the expectation is he will be Canada’s first-line centre when the tournament starts on Dec. 26 in Montreal and Toronto.

For Virtanen, this camp is serving as final launching pad to a role as a goal-scorer with Canada. It comes after the Vancouver Canucks prospect was unable to participate in the summer camp because of a shoulder injury. Virtanen was at camp, but had to be content with solo drills.

Virtanen has nine goals in 20 games for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen after scoring 45 in 71 games last season.

His second goal on Sunday was a goal-scorer’s goal, coming after he emerged from behind the net and fired a shot through a screen into the top corner.

“That definitely hurt me a little bit,” Virtanen said of his lack of activity at summer camp. “I think not participating in that was tough and for me watching was a little frustrating, but coming into this I knew I really had to show my stuff, especially in the Subway Series (against Russia in November).

“I know I had to show the whole staff I definitely wanted to be on this team and I would do anything to be on it.

“Personally I think I have done pretty well and I think just showing my 200-foot game and trying to be a good player all around the ice is what I am trying to do.”

Point is attempting to do the same as well, at the same time making an adjustment to the wing from centre.

Does he think he has done enough to demonstrate to the coaching staff he is worthy of a spot on the roster? Well, Canada didn’t have a more dangerous player on the weekend.

“I’m not so sure,” Point said, taking the safe way. “If they saw something they liked, then that is good for me.”

Consider it a guarantee.

HICKETTS LEAVES GAME

Canada didn’t emerge from the weekend without some bumps and bruises.

Defenceman Joe Hicketts failed to return to action after the first period on Sunday after he was crunched in the corner by university player Domenic Alberga.

Hicketts left for the dressing room after he was slow to leave the ice, and actually came back for a couple of shifts. But he was done after 20 minutes for precautionary reasons.

And forward Michael Dal Colle did not dress, with coach Benoit Groulx saying the Oshawa Generals star was “banged up.”

It was not clear on Sunday whether either player would be able to practise on Monday in St. Catharines, Ont.

 


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