Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Sending Home Stars

There are always questions about why players don't make the cut when it comes to Canada's World Junior Championship roster, and the answers are always the same: too young and inexperienced compared to the older players. There's no question that Canada could probably field two highly competitive teams when looking at the country's unparalleled success at the World Junior Championships. Yet it's always tough to see some of the great young stars sent home when standing before the world's greatest stage.

Today, the first round of cuts were made, and there were a couple of very notable names. Brandon Gormley of the Moncton Wildcats, Rouyn-Noranda defenceman Nicolas Deslauriers, Sudbury Wolves forward John McFarland and Plymouth Whalers centre Tyler Seguin were all told to pack up and ship out as the Canadian team starts to take form. Seguin is the top-ranked player thus far this season for the upcoming 2010 NHL Entry Draft while McFarland and Gormley are seen as locks as first-round selections. So much talent, but all four young men will return to their junior clubs.

Angelo Esposito is probably the most well-known player who suffered the same fate as these players. The difference is that Esposito was cut three years in a row before finally making the roster in his final year of eligibility as a 19 year-old. He was invited four years in a row, proving that his work as a junior player wasn't going unnoticed. However, luck seemed to be against him in his first three cracks as he was sent packing. Again and again.

"I have a bit of experience at the camp," Esposito told The Canadian Press during his fourth tryout. "I'm just going to go in there and work hard and my goal is to make this team.

"I'm stronger, faster and more confident. I have to make sure every time I'm on the ice, I'm competing and making sure I'm at my best every shift, every minute that I'm there."

To be honest, that's the attitude that Seguin, McFarland, Gormley, and Deslauriers need to have. It's not like they are the only high-scoring players who have been sent home during the Canadian training camp.

Dan Cleary celebrated his first Stanley Cup celebration in 2008, and he was also cut three times by Canada. Mike Comrie? He was cut. Eric Staal? He won a Stanley Cup with Carolina, and he was cut too. Washington's Mike Green and Eric Fehr? Both cut once.

The key for these players who have been cut is to not view it as a setback, but as a way to guide their growth. It seems, from the comments that they've been making, that this lesson has not been lost.

Said Seguin: "I don't think I played to my potential here. I tried to focus on little things too much instead of just relaxing and playing my game and I think that's the reason I got cut."

Said McFarland: "It's not quite my year yet, and my time will come."

For any World Junior team, taking 18 year-olds just makes sense in a tournament where a year can mean the difference between a lanky 6'1" kid and a muscular 6'1" titan. While there's no doubt that these players are definitely good enough to play on any other World Junior team, Canada is lucky to be blessed with an abundance of great talent. The strong junior hockey system that the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL help to develop top-flight talent, and Canada capitalizes on that benefit each and every year.

Getting cut from Team Canada would definitely be heartbreaking for these young men. If it were me, I'd be pretty disappointed. However, all of them seem to understand that they will get their shot if they continue to work hard, and that's the attitude that all players need to have if they want to be successful.

Perhaps that's what wearing the maple leaf means: hard work, big effort, lots of heart, and some incredible talent. That sounds like a winning recipe for this year's tournament, and for many tournaments to come.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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