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Category Archives: IIHF

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Alexis LaFreniere Preparing for Leadership Role on World Junior Team

OAKVILLE– Alexis LaFreniere is itching to get back on the ice.

While the rest of Canada’s World Junior hopefuls were taking part in practices, LaFreniere was putting in a ton of work on the bike. For the last few weeks, the Rimouski Oceanic forward has been nursing an ankle injury. It forced him to miss the QMJHL’s games against the Russians in the Canada/Russia series. And for the entirety of World Junior Selection Camp, including practices and games against U Sports, LaFreniere has been on the sidelines.

On Thursday morning, the 18-year-old met with the media for the first time during camp. When asked about his injury, LaFreniere was pleased with his recovery, saying that the ankle is getting better day by day.

“It’s gotten better over the last couple of days,” said LaFreniere. “They don’t want me to push too much on it. I am excited to be back on the ice soon.”
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While LaFreniere has not been on the ice, he has been integral behind the scenes. With three 17-year-olds at camp, LaFreniere has served as a mentor, introducing them to one of the most celebrated traditions in hockey.

It was just one year ago where LaFreniere was that young, inexperienced future star playing in his inaugural World Juniors. While a quarterfinal exit on home soil in Vancouver was not what he had desired, the Saint-Eustache native inherited a wealth of knowledge that he can translate into veteran leadership on this year’s team.

“Big experience last year,” said LaFreniere. “I can take that to help me this year and to have a bigger role. It’s important for the younger guys to enjoy it, have fun and work hard.”

One of those young players who LaFreniere has interacted with is Sudbury Wolves forward Quinton Byfield. Similar to LaFreniere, Byfield has generated a lot of buzz with his high level of play, currently second in the OHL in scoring (57 points). While Byfield and LaFreniere will be compared and debated regarding who should be the number one pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the two have put that aside to focus on making an impact on the World Junior team. Despite the two playing in different leagues, LaFreniere and Byfield welcome the opportunity to be on the same team and to learn from each other.

“Quinton played great last game,” said LaFreniere. “He’s a big guy, who is exciting to watch. It is fun to have him here. To eventually being able to skate with him is going to be fun.”

“He’s a busy guy so it’s hard to talk to him,” said Byfield. “But we’ve said hi a couple of times and it is great to have him here.”
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Even with a lingering ankle injury, LaFreniere has been dominant in the QMJHL. His 23 goals, 47 assists (70 points) lead not just the Quebec league but the entire Canadian Hockey League. When watching his performance with Rimouski, it is evident LaFreniere has progressed with his puck handling ability and tendency to get in front of the net to create traffic. While he is a pass-first forward, the youngster has improved his shot, making him a dynamic offensive talent that is NHL ready.

While the heightened attention regarding his NHL draft status will come in due time, LaFreniere has a huge opportunity in front of him. When the time comes for LaFreniere to hit the ice again, the highly touted prospect is ready to embrace a leadership role on this team.

Looking to bring Canada back to the golden promise land. The post Alexis LaFreniere Preparing for Leadership Role on World Junior Team appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Dale Hunter Instills Winning Culture for Team Canada

OAKVILLE– Dale Hunter really does not like losing.

So much so that during the 2006 OHL Playoffs, the London Knights head coach was fined $5,000 for arguing with on-ice officials. Even though his team got swept, Hunter still stuck up for his players.

It is that fervent focus on winning and distaste for losing that has made Hunter the blueprint junior hockey coach in Canada. Under Hunter’s leadership, the London Knights have achieved nine division titles and won two Memorial Cups.

Flash forward to the present and Hunter is employing his winning background to Canada’s National U-20 Junior Team. With the selection camp on its second day, the Canadian players are getting a taste of the identity Hunter wants to develop for this team. 

“There is nothing more than Dale loves to do than to win hockey games,” said McMichael. “The biggest thing is to work your hardest. He likes guys that can compete, protect leads and stick to a system.” 
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Connor McMichael plays for Hunter on this year’s London Knights squad. After getting drafted 25th in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft to the Washington Capitals, McMichael was sent back to London to improve his game. 

The decision would be the impetus for the Knights once again near the top of the standings. Under Hunter’s leadership, McMichael has become the OHL’s most dynamic scorer, leading the league in points with 59 (25 goals, 34 assists). But in addition to his offence, McMichael is focusing on other aspects of his game. 

Hunter prepares his players for a career in the NHL. And by doing so, he puts his players in situations where they may not be the most comfortable. For McMichael, this has allowed him to be more of a defensive force in his own zone. Tied atop the OHL in power-play goals, the Capitals prospect has also been seen killing penalties. It is this attention to detail in all aspects of a player’s development that has made Hunter so victorious. 

“Not every player comes into camp and can be a top-six scoring forward,” said McMichael. “Dale wants me to adapt to a different role and to embrace any role I’ve been given.” 
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During selection camp practices, Hunter does not put himself into the center of attention. He is often in the background, discussing drills with a small group of players. When the players are completing their tasks, Hunter does not raise his voice or act in an aggressive manner. When he speaks, the players and personnel listen, as every word uttered is of great importance. 

Sudbury Wolves forward and top 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Quinton Byfield appreciates this quality about Hunter. Having worked with the Knights head coach at the Canada/Russia series, the 17-year-old is aware that Hunter expects a lot of effort and skill for a full 60 minutes. While Byfield may not be on one of the top two scoring lines for Team Canada, he believes that he can use his size and speed to make a noticeable impact in a Hunter system.

“They are really great coaches,” said Byfield after his first practice Tuesday morning. “It would be a great experience to play under them and to represent Hockey Canada.” 

The head coach position for Canada’s World Junior team is highly sought after but even harder to keep. In the last ten years, The Canadian team has only won two gold medals. While it speaks to an increased amount of parity amongst the participating countries, having a strong, experienced leader at the head coach position can inspire a team to greatness. 

While the Hockey Canada management group wants to shift the attention to this year, it is hard to ignore last year’s quarter-final exit. The worst result on home soil in this decade. Regardless of where Canada places in the Czech Republic, Hunter will put out a team that believes in each other and will work tirelessly to wear down their opponents with speed and skill. 

Winning the number of times Dale Hunter has done with the London Knights while producing a plethora of top-tier NHL talent, is not by accident. His formula has worked and will continue to shine on Canada’s brightest junior hockey stage. 

“Dale brings a lot of calmness,” said Head of the Management Group Mark Hunter. “The respect he holds behind the bench is something that not a lot of coaches have. He’s not an in your face kind of coach. He gets his point across through ice time and being in the dressing room.” 

 The post Dale Hunter Instills Winning Culture for Team Canada appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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Joe Veleno Joins Team Canada, World Junior Selection Camp Day 1 Notes

OAKVILLE— Joe Veleno will get his chance at World Junior redemption.

The Detroit Red Wings prospect was on the losing end being a part of Team Canada, losing to Finland in the quarterfinals at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver. The late goal that bounced and tipped into the net behind Michael DiPietro would send the Canadians home early and propel Finland to an eventual gold medal.

Veleno understands fully the weight of World Junior heartbreak. Now, he will get another opportunity to put on the red and white uniform, as Canada hits the ice the Czech Republic at the end of December to get back to World Junior glory.

“Joe has maturity in his game and brings experience and leadership playing against the older guys,” said Hockey Canada’s Head Scout Brad McEwen.

At 6’1, Veleno has great vision for the ice and likes to play the game at a high speed. Transitioning into the attacking zone from his own end is effortless for Veleno, who posted 104 points last season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs.
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But as McEwen states, it is his defensive play that has really made Veleno into a complete player. Something that Team Canada coaches Dale and Mark Hunter are looking for in their players.

“He’s a complete guy, a 200-foot type player. He is so offensively important to his team and has rounded into a more complete player,” said McEwen.

With three goals and six assists through 25 games played this season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Veleno provides a wealth of experience playing with bigger players in the AHL. This will translate to success in the World Junior tournament, making him stand out for Canada on both ends of the ice.

Veleno is the fourth returning player from last year’s World Junior team, joining Alexis LaFreniere, Jared McIssac and Ty Smith. While the disappointment from last year’s tournament was apparent in the short-term, McIssac, who is just getting back from a shoulder injury, has put in the rear-view mirror as he embarks on another training camp. He welcomes the opportunity to work with Veleno, LaFreniere and Smith to instill veteran leadership in the locker room.

“It’s a tough tournament to win,” said McIsaac. “All of us have been captains for Hockey Canada through the years. We are ready for this challenge.”
Early Defensive Pairings
Coming into training camp, Mark Hunter made it clear that he wants players “that can control the puck with skill and speed.” After the first practice of selection camp, it is evident that the Canadian selectees can glide on the ice and aren’t afraid to showcase their speed.

Below are defensive pairings that were seen in the first practice:

Harley-Drysdale

Bahl-Bernard-Docker

Smith-Schneider 

Diliberatore-Addison 

McIsaac-Byram 

Two pairings that stood out were Harley/Drysdale and Bahl/Bernard-Docker. Putting an already drafted player in Harley with a draft eligible 17-year-old in Drysdale was an interesting move for the coaches to explore. But both defensemen held their own, breaking into the zone with pace, making efficient passes to their forwards and showcasing their fast shots. More needs to be seen but early on, it appears that Harley and Drysdale complement each other nicely, particularly with Harley’s puck handling and Drysdale’s skill.

Bahl and Bernard-Docker were very at ease playing alongside each other. Bahl, the Arizona Coyotes prospect, is a 6’6, 229 pound defenseman who possesses the size and physicality to wear opponents down along the boards and in his own zone. This was complemented with Ottawa Senators prospect Bernard-Docker’s skill, ranging from his fast skating to his quick release shot from the point.

“Jacob plays a complete game,” said McEwen. “He’s a good complement to our puck movers, making sure things are kept clean in his own zone.”
Early Forward Considerations
Sudbury Wolves star forward Quinton Byfield was not at the first practice due to a travel issue. The same was said about Alexis LaFreniere, who missed practice because of his regularly scheduled maintenance day.

Los Angeles Kings prospect Aidan Dudas skated before practice began, as he has been recovering from an injury. According to McEwen, the coaching staff will take Dudas’ situation “day by day” to see if he will be ready enough to play on the team.

This left the following forward combinations to provide an initial jumpstart to their World Junior Selection Camp campaigns.

Krebs-Cozens-Foote 

Thomas-McMichael-Mercer

Newhook-Groulx-Holloway 

Perfetti-Dellandrea-Foudy 

Krebs-Zary-Lavoie

It is expected that Byfield will slot into the Cozens line, while LaFreniere will slot into the Dellandrea line.

The line combination that stood out the most was Akil Thomas, Connor McMichael and Dawson Mercer. A Washington Capitals prospect and the leading scorer in the OHL with 59 points, McMichael exemplifies offensive prowess with his quick shot and blazing speed. While he had not played with McMichael before, Akil Thomas embraced the opportunity, getting into open space for passes and finding the top shelf with his fast wrist shot.

“I want to be the guy that my coaches can depend on,” said Thomas. “Connor is a really great player and it would be awesome to play with him if given the opportunity.”

For McMichael, he hopes that he gets a chance to be one of the top six forwards on the Canadian team. But his stellar performance with the London Knights is thanks to McMichael’s ability to be multi-faceted as a player. Whether it is being tough on the defensive end or relentless on the penalty kill, Dale Hunter has employed McMichael to adjust to whatever role he gives him. The young forward has certainly succeeded thus far.
Goalie Performances
Olivier Rodrigue, Hunter Jones, Nico Daws and Joel Hofer took the ice to take some shots in between the pipes.

Coming into the camp, the front runners for the three goalie spots are Rodrigue, Jones and Daws. Rodrigue is currently fifth in the QMJHL in wins with 15. Jones for the Peterborough Petes is third in goals against average (2.53) and second in save percentage (.918) in the entire OHL. But leading the crop of goalies in the OHL has been Nico Daws, who is first in both goals-against-average (2.06) and save percentage (.939), after being the Guelph Storm back up goalie last season.

In the first practice, both Rodrigue and Daws looked extremely calm and poised in the crease, particularly in the shoot out where they were stopping some very fast shots. The depth in goaltending will certainly make for a competitive camp and a challenge for the coaching staff to select which goalies belong in the tournament.

“You need to take the body of work this past year,” said McEwen. “They all have great numbers since September and are on teams trending upward. They’ve put themselves in a good spot.”

Tuesday will see Team Canada practice twice before they compete against U Sports on Wednesday and Thursday.The post Joe Veleno Joins Team Canada, World Junior Selection Camp Day 1 Notes appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


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