The Hockey Canada Program of Excellence will have a decidedly new look starting in 2014.
It begins this week; 108 of Canada’s top 1998-born hockey players have descended upon Calgary, Alta., for a nine-day national under-17 development camp from July 28 to Aug. 4.
Like other camps, Hockey Canada’s U17 gathering is a learning opportunity for players and staff alike, including on-ice sessions, classroom seminars and intrasquad games. More importantly, it officially signifies the beginning of a new approach to hockey development in Canada.
According to Scott Salmond, vice-president of hockey operations and national teams with Hockey Canada, there are two main reasons for the under-17 program’s change in direction.
“When you’re spread out over a large country like we have, it’s difficult to get a consistent message from coast to coast,” Salmond says. “The ability to bring everyone in and get the same message that’s controlled by Hockey Canada – that is the primary.
“Number two is to make sure we get the best players. Not the best players in each region, but the best players in Canada.”
For the past 28 years, Canada has been represented at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge by five regional teams (Atlantic, Ontario, Pacific, Quebec and West). Beginning this season, three national teams – Black, Red and White – will wave the Canadian flag at the annual event.
As for this week, the selection process to find the top 108 players was a considerable task, one that fell to Ryan Jankowski, Hockey Canada’s head scout of men’s national teams, with assistance from regional scouts Donald Audette (Quebec), Brad McEwan (West), Kevin Mitchell (Atlantic) and Kyle Raftis (Ontario).
“[Our scouts] travel,” Salmond says. “They see players with their club teams; they see players with their under-16 regional events. [Based on the scouting reports,] we shortlisted players in each region. From there we had a couple of principles we wanted to follow.”
Players were ranked, their style of game was identified, and they were divided equally amongst the six camp teams.
They were also divided by region, with the goal of creating more opportunity for players from different parts of the country to play with each other at a younger age.
When it comes to the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge this fall in Sarnia-Lambton, Ont., the final team selections will be done in much of the same way as camp. With the amount of talent in Calgary, one can only imagine the tough decisions that will have to be made.
“First of all, we’re going to select the best players,” Salmond says. “Not the best checkers or the best scorers, just the best guys. Then we’re going to put them on three teams with different types of players mixed together, different players from different regions mixed together. There will be three equal teams.”
Canadian teams have won 13 of the 22 gold medals awarded at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge since the tournament debuted in 1986, but haven’t hoisted the Quebec Cup since Ontario took the title in 2011 in Winnipeg, Man.
The first puck drops in Sarnia-Lambton on Nov. 2.