Kitchener's Matt Puempel hasn't played since November 27 (Getty)After two weeks of intense speculation, Team Canada released its 37-man selection camp roster Monday afternoon. On a conference call, Steve Spott repeatedly called the team "the most difficult to make" particularly in a National Hockey League lockout season. A number of players who probably would have got the call any other year were left off the invite roster, and a couple of them will probably make it next season.
Two notable omissions were in goal. Zachary Fucale and Eric Comrie both played well in their Subway Series half games and there was a theory that Team Canada may have brought either underage, draft-eligible goaltender over to Russia as a reserve to gain valuable experience for next year, but Canada instead opted for three OHL goaltenders (Jordan Binnington, Jake Paterson, and projected starter Malcolm Subban) along with the Edmonton Oil Kings' Laurent Brossoit.
Spott suggested that bringing an underage goalie to the tournament was "something we talked about early" but in the end age didn't factor into any of the decisions. He did suggest that Fucale's "opportunity will come next year" and that the four goaltenders they're bringing "are at the top of their game."
You'll note Étienne Marcoux of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada isn't up there, despite leading the QMJHL in both save percentage and goals against average. A shoulder injury has forced him out of the Armada's lineup.
Also out due to injury, the most notable omission up front, is Spott's very own Kitchener Ranger Matt Puempel. Spott said Puempel "deserved to be" on the training camp list, but his chances in the camp were "uncertain" due to his shoulder injury that has kept him out of the Rangers' lineup since November 27. Puempel has 21 goals and seven assists this season.
Other omitted forwards were Seth Griffith of the London Knights and a pair of WHL attackers, Colin Smith of the Kamloops Blazers and Adam Lowry of the Swift Current Broncos. Lowry is a gritty, 6'5" Winnipeg Jets 2011 draftee who sat out most of last year due to injury, but has 11 goals and 31 points in 30 games this season. Smith was selected in the late rounds by the Colorado Avalanche last season and is tied for the league lead in scoring with teammate JC Lipon, but Hockey Canada chose to go with Lipon thanks to his level of grit. As for Griffith, a Boston Bruins-select also from 2012, already has 19 goals on the year in 30 games. Head scout Kevin Prendergast said that Griffith was likely a lockout casualty, suggesting the team was "top-heavy" with their top-six forwards. "He's had an outstanding career in London and it's just part of the process of being a Canadian," he said.
Meanwhile, on defence, while the team invited 12 defencemen, Ottawa first rounder Cody Ceci was left off the list in favour of some older right handed shots in Frank Corrado of Sudbury and Ryan Sproul of Sault Ste. Marie. On Ceci, Prendergast suggested that he's "a high-end hockey player" but that he "struggled in the summer tournament" against the Russians. Two of Ceci's 67s teammates did make the cut, but they were both forwards, the underage Sean Monahan and 2011 Minnesota Wild 7th rounder Tyler Graovac.
The other defenceman that has been left of is Ryan Pulock, third in the WHL in scoring among defencemen and already a team captain at age 17. However, he hasn't played since November 18, although has practiced with the team, and there was a sense that perhaps he'd have been able to make it in time for camp, but it was made clear by the Hockey Canada brass that the Canadians were extremely deep on defence and they weren't going to risk taking a player to camp who wasn't 100%, particularly at the position where they've already lost Everett's Ryan Murray.