James Boyd had a lot more runway this time.
Moved from last December and January to August because of COVID-19, the postponed and reimagined 2022 world junior hockey championship presented unique challenges.
For the head of Hockey Canada’s management group, it was a daily battle just to figure out which players would show up in Edmonton for an awkwardly timed tournament – one staged after the NHL draft and just weeks before the start of a new campaign.
“We had players that were unavailable, we had players that were injured after playing a long season,” Boyd said. “We ended up with 15, 16, 17 unavailable players.
“In June, we had players dropping out every day.”
The showcase event’s 2023 edition is a lot more straightforward, with the next step in the process set to begin Friday when Canada’s 31 selection camp invitees hit the ice in Moncton, N.B.
“This has been a cleaner process,” said Boyd, whose day job is general manager of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s.
The on-ice process will be led by head coach Dennis Williams – bench boss of the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips and an assistant on Canada’s gold-medal winning staff from the summer.
“We weren’t really sure what was going to happen with everything after the draft and the way the tournament fell,” he said of that event. “But what I learned from my time with the Hockey Canada is that everyone’s in place to do a great job, and they give you all the resources.
“We want to put a great product out there that Canadian fans are going to enjoy.”
The initial camp roster of 29 players released last week was headlined by talismanic centre Connor Bedard.
The 17-year-old Regina Pats star leads the WHL in scoring with an outrageous 27 goals and 64 points in just 28 games, further cementing his status as the projected top pick at the 2023 draft.
Another name up front is University of Michigan freshman forward Adam Fantilli, who would be in the conversation as a potential No. 1 selection if not for Bedard.
And then there are the NHL reinforcements headed to the Maritimes.
The Los Angeles Kings announced Wednesday they’re loaning defenceman Brandt Clarke to Hockey Canada before the under-20 men’s national team landed an even bigger fish – Seattle Kraken forward Shane Wright.
The No. 4 pick at last summer’s draft has endured a stop-start opening to his professional career – he did score his first NHL goal earlier this week – and is now in the mix after also being loaned to Canada.
Wright didn’t play for the national team this summer, but was part of the group a year ago before that tournament was shelved by the coronavirus.
“If the Kraken call and Shane’s available, we’re jumping for joy,” Boyd said before Thursday’s official announcement.
With the tournament, which Canada opens Dec. 26, again set to be played on smaller North American ice in Halifax and Moncton, there’s a clear emphasis on both size and skill among camp hopefuls that includes 10 summer returnees.
Nine of the 10 defenceman are six foot one or taller, while 14 of 17 forwards are at least six feet.
But like every international tournament, there will have to be buy-in up across the final roster of 13 forwards, seven defencemen and three goaltenders.
“Everyone’s a top player on their team, everyone plays a key role,” Boyd said. “We’re going to need them to adjust and embrace the role that’s laid out.
“We’re excited to start working with this new group.”
This group has no connection to Hockey Canada’s scandal-filled spring, summer and fall that led to stinging criticism, funding cuts and the resignation of its leadership, but the players will still be in the spotlight as the national organization looks to move forward.
“We want to make sure we keep that focus on how we do things both on and off the ice,” Williams said. “We want to minimize any distractions – whether it’s through the pressure or anything on the outside. Our guys are coming in excited, our guys are coming in determined. They know the expectations.
“We’re there to coach hockey and put the best product on the ice by holding them to a high standard on and off the ice.”
And after the rollercoaster lead-up to the last world juniors, Hockey Canada’s brain trust hoping for a smoother ride on the country’s Atlantic coast.
“We weren’t sure there was going to be a tournament,” Boyd said of the August event. “It’s been an interesting year-and-a-half here. There’s a pandemic, restrictions, the cancellation of the tournament, the summer tournament. It’s been different.
“But it’s been great – the whole thing.”