17 National Junior TEam“For sure I was disappointed.”
Last year 40 players received invitations to Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Summer Development Camp in Calgary, Alta.
Thomas Chabot was not one of them.
Three months earlier the defenceman had played for Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team at the 2015 IIHF U18 World Championship. He recorded a goal and
four assists in seven games and won a bronze medal. He felt good about how he’d played.
Alas, he seemed destined to spend the first week of August working out on his own, taking advantage of some rare alone time in what had been a busy draft
year (Chabot was a first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators).
Then an injury to another player opened up a spot on the blue-line.
Chabot was the next man up.
“That’s an interesting call [to make] because you’ve already left him off,” says Ryan Jankowski, director of player personnel for Hockey Canada. “In their
minds they’ve maybe been snubbed a little bit. However, you also hear the excitement in their voice because they’ve been left off but now all of a sudden
they’re invited and ready to go. I think at that point it’s I’ve got something to prove here because I wasn’t on at first.”
Chabot was a bit of a late bloomer, a part of neither the Program of Excellence’s under-17 program nor the under-18 summer program.
An increase in responsibility with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League brought his game along.
“They gave me a lot of ice time so I could play both ways up the ice,” says Chabot. “I worked a lot with my coaches back in junior on my defensive side to
get better, stronger, harder in front of the net – little details like that. My game has grown lots in the past two years.”
Excited to receive an invitation to camp after all, Chabot left his expectations at home and flew to Calgary determined to prove that he could play at the
“He was an easy guy to bring in,” says Jankowski, “which was important for him because he got an opportunity to show that he was a world-class player at
the under-20 level and then it kind of took off. I think his confidence took off and he had a great start to the year.”
Chabot received an invitation to Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp in December, then earned a spot on the team’s final roster for the
2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, the lone 18-year-old defenceman on the team’s blue-line.
He joined returnee Joe Hicketts on the top pairing.
“I had a role for both ways up the ice,” he says. “I had the chance to prove myself offensively with my power play ice time, but overall I think my role
was more trying to shut down the top players on the other teams.”
He returned home with a ton of confidence. As the team’s only returning defenceman at camp this year, he knows he’ll be looked upon to lead this time
Jankowski expects him to build off of what he learned last year – just how intense and difficult the competition is – and for the team to move forward
building him as part of a key group of returning players.
“I want to see him be the elite player that he can be,” says Jankowski. “There’s a shift – when you’re an 18-year-old you’re just coming in to prove
yourself, see what you can do and see where you stack up. When you come in as a 19-year-old returning player there are expectations that you’re going to
work with the other players that haven’t been there before for them to understand how difficult [the tournament is] and how important it is to us.”
Chabot hopes that leadership role continues right through to the New Year.
“I had a chance to play [at the World Juniors] last year as an 18-year-old, so I think I’m ready for it,” he says. “I want to do it again and be playing
against the top players from other teams. I’m expecting I’m going to be, but for sure I’m going to have to work to get that spot again.”
There’s added incentive to keep his place on the team: not only to avenge a disappointing sixth-place finish in Finland but also to play to a full partisan
house on home soil.
Chabot is used to seeing 5,000 fans a night in the QMJHL. There could be close to four times that many people a game in Montreal and Toronto.
“I remember watching it two years ago and it looked crazy,” he says. “To have the chance to play on the team again would be special.”