Elijah Roberts doesn’t like the word ‘no.’
Last July, when 111 players earned an invite to Canada’s national under-17 development camp in Calgary, Roberts wasn’t among them. In early October, when
the 66-player Canadian roster was announced for the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, his name wasn’t there, either.
Yet there is Roberts, wearing No. 23 for Canada White and living out his Team Canada dream.
“I always thought the opportunity was still there,” Roberts, a rookie defenceman with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, says of his U17 chances. “I always look
forward, and obviously everyone wants to be there, but I was looking forward to the season, starting off well and maybe getting an invite.”
In the end, he needed someone else’s bad luck to get him to Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, B.C. – injuries to three defencemen opened roster spots just
two weeks before the tournament, and Roberts got the call.
He, Jarrod Gourley and Alexander Krief replaced Brady Lyle, Max Martin and Reilly Webb.
“I had a sense that if I kept playing well, and an injury happened, I could possibly make it in, but I didn’t know I was up there and someone they were
really looking at,” he says. “It was unbelievable [to find out he was joining the roster], something special. It was a great feeling.”
Even though he wasn’t at camp and wasn’t part of the original 66 doesn’t mean he wasn’t being watched; Ryan Jankowski, Hockey Canada’s director of player
personnel, says Roberts had long been on the radar.
A second-round pick of the Rangers in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, the 16-year-old Roberts has been a mainstay on the Kitchener blue-line, playing in
all 12 games before leaving for the tournament.
“He was a guy who was just a little bit short of being at summer camp,” Jankowski says. “And as we went through our process, as we named our rosters, we
knew we had injuries, so we wanted to give him a little more time [in Kitchener], and let him get a little more comfortable.
“We wanted to make sure we had enough viewings, and a lot of looks at him.”
It’s the second year in a row a player not invited to summer camp has played at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge; last year, Jordan Kyrou turned his U17
opportunity into a spot on Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team in August, and a gold medal at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
As there was with Kyrou, there was a bit of trepidation amongst Hockey Canada brass about bringing in a player who didn’t get the summer camp experience,
and wasn’t exposed to the “Canadian Way.”
A few looks at Roberts, though, quickly put those fears to rest.
“There’s always a concern with [a player who didn’t attend camp], but you also do your due diligence and make sure that the kid has character and he’s open
to learning,” Jankowski says. “You make sure you dot the i’s and cross the t’s on that. What we’ve seen with his start with Kitchener being so strong is
that if he could come into that situation and have success, he could come into our situation and have success.
For his own part, Roberts had a few friends he could lean on to help him play catch-up.
In 2014, he joined the Toronto Marlboros for their run to an OHL Cup championship, a team that included five players who attended the inaugural U17 summer
camp, and last season, playing full-time for the Marlboros’ Minor Midget AAA team, Roberts won another OHL Cup, this time alongside six players who were in
Calgary for summer camp, five of whom are joining him at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“Ya, I talked to [Ben] Jones, [Ryan] McLeod, [Matthew] Strome, all those guys,” he says of his crash course in the national under-17 program. “They told me
that it’s serious and it’s business. When we come here, it’s work; no fooling around. They shared a lot of the small stuff that helped make the difference,
make sure my game is prepared, and I’m prepared as a person.”
So for the next player who doesn’t get an invite and think his opportunity has passed him by, what advice does Roberts have for him? It’s pretty
“Forget about all the bad stuff and just focus on the future, and good things will happen.”