Date: December 12, 2016

World junior goalie Michael McNiven has had to grow up fast

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By Terry Koshan – Toronto Sun

Michael McNiven’s mind is clear as he attempts to earn a job with Canada at the world junior selection camp.

Circumstances beyond his control dictated a different path to the camp for the 19-year-old goaltender with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League.

McNiven in late November attended the funeral of his birth mother, with whom he had been in contact during the past three years, and only on the phone or through social media.

“I flew out to Winnipeg on an off-day and met some new cousins, stayed with them,” McNiven said.

“It was a great 12 hours I had there, I got to release a lot of energy that was built up inside and I finally got to let it go. I feel a lot better now and I came back and just tried to play as strong as possible.”

McNiven, who was born in Winnipeg, was raised by his paternal grandparents Jim (who passed away in December 2013) and Christine McNiven in Georgetown, Ont., and for the past several years has been building a relationship with his father.

There is no bitterness in McNiven, who has had to mature on a sharper curve than most.

The hockey road to this camp has had its bumps for McNiven, and those have been overcome. He was passed over in the 2015 NHL draft, but was signed by the Montreal Canadiens three months later.

For Owen Sound, McNiven has put together solid numbers in 2016-17, going 15-7-1 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.41 goals-against average.

Competition this week at the Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau for the two goalie spots comes in the form of Carter Hart, who could have the inside track to be the starter, and Connor Ingram.

Both have been great to start the season in the Western Hockey League, Hart with the Everett Silvertips and Ingram with the Kamloops Blazers.

“All three are playing elite hockey, all played extremely well in their club situations, and even though they don’t have world junior experience, a lot of international experience, they are the hottest in Canada,” Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski said.

“Hart and Ingram were at our summer camp, so there is an advantage for them. McNiven has been very good in pressure situations and he has always played well against (the) London (Knights), which is always a pressure situation.”

Those games in the OHL’s difficult Midwest Division, not only against the Knights but also the Erie Otters and the Kitchener Rangers, have been valuable experiences for McNiven. There’s playoff-like intensity when those clubs are the opponent for the Attack.

“Probably the strongest part of my game is I battle every shot and every opportunity and I never give up on the puck,” McNiven said. “I get a little spread out sometimes, but I feel like I have success with second and third chances.”

McNiven, as one would guess, has no interest in getting this close to wearing Canada’s sweater at the 2017 world junior championship in Toronto and Montreal and then being told there is no spot for him.

“I guarantee I won’t be happy about it if I don’t make the team,” McNiven said. “I’m here to secure a job, to play for my country, and play for my family as well as my organization and myself too. I want this job just as bad as anyone else if not more.”

Not surprisingly, his crease is where he can concentrate fully.

“It was an amazing feeling when (the camp roster) was announced,” McNiven said. “Everything in the last month has been tough, but I knew I had to stay focused if I wanted this opportunity, especially with my mom passing away.

“At the rink was a better place than being at home and getting my mind off it made it a lot better.”

BUSY NIGHT FOR NETMINDERS

All three goalies in Canada’s selection camp will be playing on Monday night.

When Canada meets the U Sports all-star team at the Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau, one of Carter Hart, Michael McNiven or Connor Ingram will be in the net for the university side and the other two will split the game for Canada.

“Three excellent goalies,” head coach Dominique Ducharme said. “We want to see them as part of the success, not only relying on them. It starts with us playing a strong game in front of them.”

In the past, returning players, or players expected to have significant roles, have been given a pass for exhibition games during camp. Not on Ducharme’s watch.

“They will be involved like everyone else,” Ducharme said. “They’re part of the group and they’re going to be in.”

Dylan Strome can’t easily forget bad world junior memories

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By Terry Koshan – Toronto Sun

 As much as he would like to forget, Dylan Strome can’t simply let go.

One of five players at Canada’s selection camp who experienced the sixth-place world junior finish last winter in Finland, Strome has found the bad memories are fresh.

“It’s pretty easy to remember,” Strome said on Sunday. “I wish I could forget it. It’s not a good feeling. So many people in your country and your family and friends watch the games.

“I’m still not over it. Hopefully, I will be over it after January 6th (once the tournament ends on Jan. 5).”

Strome witnessed what didn’t work last year, when the Canadians couldn’t find cohesion. There’s crucial work to be done at the selection camp this week at the Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau.

“It starts here,” Strome said. “Teams win tournaments by the stuff (they accomplish) before the tournament.”

Already, the five returnees are sharing their recollections of the 2016 tournament. That’s what head coach Dominique Ducharme and his staff hoped would happen right away.

“It comes up in the dressing room,” said forward Tyson Jost, who is likely to get a long look as one of Strome’s wingers.

“We don’t want what happened last year at all. It’s in Canada this year (in Toronto and Montreal as it was in 2015) we know what happened last time it was in Canada (a gold medal won in front of raucous fans at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto).”

As for what’s occurring on the ice, expect the pace to be intensive in exhibition games against the U Sports all-stars on Monday and Tuesday and against the Czech Republic on Wednesday.

“Our guys are playing CHL hockey in early December and within two weeks we’re going to need to be playing playoff hockey, probably at the AHL level,” Ducharme said. “It’s quite a step, it’s quite an adjustment and we want to get into that right away.”

POINT SHOTS

Ducharme knows exactly what kind of team he wants in place when Canada opens the world junior tournament on Dec. 26 at the ACC against Russia. “When we don’t have the puck we want to be getting the puck back as quick as possible,” Ducharme said. “We want to pressure the puck, taking time and space away from the other team and when we have it we want to be responsible, we want to be using our skills. Sounds pretty simple, but it (starts) with the guys playing their best game.” … Ducharme indicated he was not entirely sure when the nine cuts required by Canada will be made this week … Forward Blake Speers, recovering from a wrist injury, was on the ice for the second practice on Sunday after missing the first one in the morning … If you’re a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, you have to be thrilled by the fact the club has no fewer than six prospects in Canada’s camp. “I guess we like the same kind of player,” Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski said. “It’s more of a coincidence (than anything else).” … An advantage for Ducharme, similar to the five returning players, was experiencing the failures last year as an assistant on the coaching staff. What lesson did Ducharme learn? “The first thing is how quick you need to adjust and how quick you need to raise your game,” Ducharme said. “It’s about the little things and little things make a big difference.”

FROM THE HASH MARKS

Six players in the National Hockey League — forwards Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner, Travis Konecny, Lawson Crouse, Anthony Beauvillier and defenceman Jakob Chychrun — are eligible to play for Canada. “Well, I would take Connor back …,” Ducharme said with a smile. “We’re really happy with the guys we have here. We feel we are going to be a strong team and we are concentrating on that.” Calls from Hockey Canada officials will continue to be made to check on the availability of Crouse (Arizona Coyotes) and Beauvillier (New York Islanders) but no one is holding their breath … Pierre-Luc Dubois, considered a lock for a spot at forward, has been traded in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Dubois, a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect who was the third pick overall in the NHL draft this past June, was acquired by the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles on Sunday … Buffalo Sabres prospect Brendan Guhle, meanwhile, also is eligible but is not at camp. The Prince George Cougars defenceman recently was returned to junior by the Sabres, who had been forced to summon the 19-year-old on an emergency basis. Though Guhle, who played in three games for Buffalo, is eligible for the world junior, he has not been on the radar of Hockey Canada, which couldn’t think of enough good reasons to invite him to try out … Once the team is selected later this week, the group will head to Mont Tremblant on Thursday for several days of practice and off-ice activities. The Canadians will then play three exhibition games next week — versus Finland at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Monday; versus the Czech Republic at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on Wednesday; and versus Switzerland at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Friday.

Russian hopes to upgrade last year’s silver

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By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

With club-and-country team-mates Pavel Kraskovski and Yegor Korshkov he’s established himself as valuable part of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s KHL roster, while he also found time to help the club’s juniors win the Kharlamov Cup, the top prize in Russian junior hockey, at the end of last season.

Now he’s preparing for his second World Junior campaign and is relishing the chance to go one better than the silver medal he won in Helsinki back in January.

“The World Junior Championship in Finland was great. I have good memories of it,” he told IIHF.com. “I think it’s important to participate in big tournaments like this, to play at such a high level. It makes a big difference in any player’s development.

“The only bad thing was that we couldn’t win it all in the final game.”

In Helsinki, Polunin played on a line with club mates Kraskovski and Korshkov, scoring three goals in the group stage as part of a troika that delivered seven of Russia’s goals in the tournament, including both in the 2-1 semi-final victory over Team USA.

This season the trio has also formed an effective line in the KHL, delivering a combined total of 42 points until an injury for Korshkov on 2nd December broke up the partnership. Head coach Alexei Kudashov has spoken of his willingness to give youngsters a chance, and Polunin – who moved from the Pingviny club in Moscow to enter the Lokomotiv organization – is grateful for that opportunity.

“Because of the coaches’ trust, young players gain confidence and play better,” he said. “It’s very good because it helps me develop and grow better and faster.”

His colleagues, though, won’t be joining him in Montreal, having already turned 20 and stepped up to make their debuts with the Russian senior team at last month’s Karjala Cup in Finland. Instead, the 19-year-old Muscovite is likely to be partnered by Kirill Kaprizov and Mikhail Vorobyov of Salavat Yulayev Ufa.

“It’s not quite the same as playing with Yegor and Pavel, because we’ve been together in one line for so long,” Polunin admitted. “But we’ve already found some chemistry with Kirill and Mikhail, we’re beginning to get a feel for each other on the ice. We’re making some good plays in the offensive zone and creating chances for each other, just like we do at our clubs.”

That partnership was seen to good effect in the recent Four Nations’ tournament, where Polunin scored three and Kaprizov one even as Russia suffered some mixed results against Sweden, Finland and the Czechs. And while Kaprizov has emerged as the leading rookie in the KHL this season, a strong showing in Canada could be the catalyst that brings Polunin’s name to the attention of even more NHL scouts.

Last summer, in an interview with championat.com, the youngster, ranked 52nd in the ratings for European prospects, admitted there had been tentative interest from North America but added that it was too early to plan for a crack at crossing the Atlantic. And that level-headed approach won’t change when he parades his skills in front of a bevy of scouts in Montreal.

“First and foremost, the World Juniors is a chance to represent your country,” Polunin said. “It’s an honour and privilege for every player and we all look forward to going out and giving our best, doing everything we can to win.

“I don’t pay special attention to scouts, I just want to concentrate on my game. Anything else is a question of time.”

Under the guidance of head coach Valeri Bragin, back for his fifth World Juniors behind the bench with Russia, there’s a quiet determination to go one better than last year and erase the memory of an overtime defeat in the final. But before that, in the group stage, there’s another classic rivalry that caught Polunin’s eye.

“I’m looking forward to our first game against Canada, because I never played against them at such a high level,” he said. “But our only goal is to win it all. We want the trophy!”