It wasn’t the conversation Haydn Fleury hoped would happen. The then-18-year-old was one of eight defencemen still with Canada’s National Junior Team when
they played the first of three pre-competition games ahead of last year’s IIHF World Junior Championship.
Canada’s final roster had room for only seven blue-liners. After the team’s loss to Russia, the coaches broke the news to Fleury.
“They just said it wasn’t my year,” he says. “It’s a 19-year-old’s tournament for the most part and they went with that last year.”
Rourke Chartier also felt the sting of being a late cut, as one of the final three forwards released from the roster.
“I don’t know if I was real positive at first, but I guess it just motivated me to prove that I could’ve been there,” he says. “I think it was a lot easier
knowing that I did have another year, but a long year of waiting for that opportunity again.”
Fleury returned to a leadership role with the Red Deer Rebels, while Chartier rejoined the Kelowna Rockets for an eventual run to the Memorial Cup final.
Watching their peers compete on home ice in Montreal and Toronto initially proved difficult.
“At first I told myself I wasn’t going to watch it, but at the end of the day you’re Canadian and you want to support your country,” says Fleury.
“It was actually pretty tough at times to watch, just knowing how close you were,” says Chartier. “Obviously, you want to see them do well and it was
awesome to see them win gold, but at the same time it was tough knowing you were one or two guys away from being out there on the ice yourself.”
Even as that disappointment still lingered, both players readily accepted another invitation to selection camp, with no guarantees that the second time
around would prove lucky.
But having experienced the bright spotlight of tryout camp before, both players knew what to anticipate in terms of attention, intensity and expectations.
“It was a bit of an eye-opener at first,” says Chartier, who hadn’t been invited to the team’s 2014 summer development camp. “The speed of the game was a
lot different. Sticking around to the end [before] and being able to get in an exhibition game [helped] me know where I had to get my game at for the
Being another year older, says Fleury, and another year more comfortable in the setting, says Chartier, allowed them to just play their games.
After four days of selection camp and two exhibition games in Toronto, a cross-Atlantic flight and two more pre-competition games in Finland, the easy part
for the duo – showing how far their games had come – was over.
The wait that followed was the hardest part.
Having defeated the Czech Republic in a pre-competition game in Imatra on Dec. 20, the players boarded their bus bound for Helsinki, three hours southwest,
where they would learn their fate.
“I was trying not to think about it,” says Fleury. “I think we were playing cards and playing games on our phones. I think everyone was trying not to think
about it too much.”
Once the bus reached the hotel, the coaching staff released the final three players. This time Chartier and Fleury, to their admitted relief, were not
History, however, repeated itself in a way within the Rockets dressing room. Last year Chartier rejoined Kelowna while older teammate Madison Bowey played
on with the National Junior Team. This time around Nick Merkley was one of the final two forwards let go from the team.
“Madison texted me a couple of days after, so that’s the same thing I did for [Merkley],” says Chartier. “I know it’s not going to be easy at first, but
after a while it gets better.”
For Fleury, though, the ‘getting better’ part took 12 months. “Probably when the team was made this year,” he says about when he finally felt he could move
past being released. “You never really get over being cut from a team, but once the team was made this year it makes it easier.”
Last season Chartier scored 48 goals for the Rockets, third best in the Western Hockey League. This year an upper body injury has limited him to 10 games,
yet he still has six goals. Goal-scorer or grinder, he’s happy to take on any role asked in Helsinki, happy to play anywhere up and down the lineup.
Fleury sees himself as one of the team’s shut-down men, going over the boards to challenge the oppositions’ top forward lines.
For both it’s about finally getting to wear the Canadian sweater at a world juniors and maybe, just maybe, help make a little history doing so.
“I know it’s been a while since Canada has won overseas,” says Fleury, “so to be part of a group that did that would be a huge accomplishment.”