It’s 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, and this is not just another day at the office. The 2006 Selection Camp is getting underway as half of the aspiring Team Canada members hit the ice at the Pacific Coliseum. When Head Coach Brent Sutter blows his whistle, it triggers a frenzy of fast-paced skating. Among those skaters is Peterborough Petes forward Steve Downie.
The gritty right wing is fortunate to be at camp after playing only 13 games so far this year, whereas most of his counterparts have appeared in 30 or so.
Early in the season, Downie was involved in a dispute with his former club, the Windsor Spitfires, and only ended up playing one game there. He was traded to Peterborough November 9 and made a good enough impression on Team Canada’s scouts to warrant a camp invitation.
“To sit out at the beginning of the year really hurt me,” Downie said after practice. “It took me a couple of weeks to get my stride back. But, once I got it back, I feel good out there now. I just hope I can bring a lot of energy to this camp.”
In 13 games this year, Downie has earned seven goals and 16 assists, plus 36 penalty minutes. The 18-year-old Newmarket native has seemingly been re-energized by moving from a struggling Windsor team to a top OHL contender, with the Petes leading the league in points.
Downie’s invitation was based on his performance at August’s Development Camp in Whistler. Since then, though, there have been some significant additions to the Team Canada hopefuls.
“The team’s different this time around,” said Downie. “There’s a whole new group of guys on our side of the room. It’s going to take a couple of days to get used to how they play."
During the first practice, Downie was placed on a line with 16-year-old Angelo Esposito and Kris Chucko, a 2004 first-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames.
“I’m excited to play with both of them,” said Downie. “[Esposito] has got some real talent. [Chucko] plays like me. He likes the physical game.”
The 5-10, 189-pound Downie idolizes power forwards like Wendel Clark and Todd Bertuzzi. But another player he admires is only 20 years old. Downie, who was drafted 29th overall in 2005 by Philadelphia, has big shoes to fill in terms of trying to emulate Jeff Carter’s amazing 20 World Junior performances.
Carter, who’s now prospering in Philly, scored a combined 12 goals and five assists at those tournaments. Downie views what Carter did as an inspiration for his own World Junior Championship dreams.
“He’s unbelievable. It’s going to be a real hard challenge to even get an inch of what he got. He’s a great player and I look up to him.”
Downie hopes to make the team and then help Canada win a gold medal.
“First step is making the team and next step is winning the gold. It will be a great step in my career. I’m real excited. I’m not there yet, so I can’t really say anything, but hopefully I’ll play good enough to make the team.”
The whistle blows again and Sutter gathers his players for one last talk. The players then quietly exit the ice surface. Soon, some of them will be exiting to the thunderous ovation of rabid Canadian hockey fans, which will be music to these players’ ears. And Steve Downie hopes he can be among them.