Despite this, a trio of 17-year-olds, Ryan Murray, Ryan Murphy, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, are battling for roster spots this week at Canada’s National Junior Team selection camp, just one year removed from battling for gold at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
The three played for different teams in Timmins – Murray captained West, Nugent-Hopkins starred for Pacific and Murphy helped Ontario reach the gold medal game – but got the same international experience, helping their case for a spot at this year’s World Juniors.
“The best part about the (under-17) tournament is learning what you are going to be up against as your career progresses,” Murray says during a break in camp. “You get to play against the best players from around the world in your age group, and it shows you how hard you have to work to get ahead.”
Even after wearing the ‘C’ for West in Timmins – and again this summer with Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team – Murray admits his focus was more on his second season with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips than it was on playing this Christmas in Buffalo.
“For me the National Junior Team was a goal,” says the White City, Sask., native, “but it wasn’t the first thing on my mind. (I know that) so many more players get that (U17) international experience than are able to at the World Juniors.”
Thus far in Toronto the three have been noticeable on the ice, for more than just the full cages they’re forced to wear as under-18s. Their play helped them survive the first round of releases on Tuesday morning, keeping alive the possibility for all three of wearing the red and white when the first puck drops on Boxing Day.
It’s then, Murray says, that the lessons learned at last year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge will come in handy.
“The international experience doesn’t help as much in the camp, other than getting to know what you are up against,” he says. “Once you are playing in the tournament, that is when it will be useful.”
Indeed, there is no shortage of under-17 experience on the ice at the MasterCard Centre – of the 40 players who earned invites to camp, 31 played in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, meaning there isn’t much of an advantage among the Canadians.
But if Murray, Murphy and Nugent-Hopkins are lucky enough to survive Wednesday’s final releases, they can draw upon their memories of the Russians, Finns and Swedes from Timmins to help them as they aim to help Canada to a 16th World Junior gold.
And how about this year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg?
“I think everybody will enjoy it,“ Murray says. “It is good, fast hockey, and fans get a chance to see the stars of tomorrow.”
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