Last summer, 111 players earned invites to Canada’s national under-17 development camp, marking the first step in the Hockey Canada Program of Excellence.
Brayden Gorda wasn’t one of them.
Six months before that, 20 players donned the blue and gold of Alberta at the 2015 Canada Winter Games, winning a silver medal. Gorda wasn’t there, either.
It’s not as if the defenceman didn’t have the skill; Gorda has shared the ice with most of the Edmonton-based skaters who got Team Alberta and Team Canada
calls. But he always seemed to be on the outside looking in.
Instead of getting down about missing out, he got better. He made it his mission to prove his doubters wrong.
“I thought I belonged there,” Gorda says. “I thought getting seen as a younger player would have been good for me. So yes, I used it as motivation and I
looked towards having a good season and hoped for the best.”
While hoping is one thing, working hard to achieve your goals is another.
And Gorda’s work ethic didn’t go unnoticed; the Edmonton Oil Kings blue-liner is one of 44 players on the ice at Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18
Team selection camp, getting his first national exposure.
Of the 44 players, 42 represented Canada at the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and one, fellow defenceman Brady Lyle, was named to the U17 roster
before an injury kept him out of the tournament.
Then there’s Gorda.
“The confidence and physical maturity he went through last year allowed him to take big steps in his game,” says Ryan Jankowski, director of player
personnel for Hockey Canada.
“We feel he’s earned the right to get a strong look to make the Ivan Hlinka [Memorial Cup] team. I think he’s going to come here [to selection camp in
Calgary] and impress a lot of people.”
So how exactly does a player go from being unnoticed to suddenly relevant just one year later?
The Oil Kings won the WHL championship and Memorial Cup with a veteran-laden team in 2014, just a few months before Gorda joined the organization as the
64th pick in the WHL Bantam Draft.
When he joined Edmonton as a 16-year-old at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, he had a chance to play major minutes on a rebuilding team and give scouts
a chance to see what they may have missed.
“It helped me for sure,” Gorda says. “It helped me get noticed, show my skill and what I have. I had always played in weaker minor hockey programs growing
up, so the past season was great for me to learn new things.”
It didn’t hurt that Gorda’s regular partner on the blue-line was 20-year-old veteran Aaron Irving, a sixth-round pick of the Nashville Predators in the
2014 NHL draft, who helped Gorda with the nuances of the game.
Now with a full season of Major Junior hockey under his belt, it’s on to Team Canada.
“I feel really good,” Gorda says. “I worked really hard during the season, so it feels like an accomplishment to be named to the top 44 after being left
off the top 100-something last year. But I need to keep working hard and hopefully make the team now.”
He has impressed Jankowski and the Hockey Canada scouts once to earn the invite to camp, why can’t he do it again and help Canada go for a
ninth-consecutive Ivan Hlinka gold?
As Gorda has already proven, you can’t count him out just yet.