Josh Ho-Sang will finally get a chance to make his case to Hockey Canada next month. In person, and on the ice.
The outspoken Windsor Spitfires forward will play in one of two OHL Super Series games against Russia. The Super Series event is used by Hockey Canada’s brain trust to evaluate potential players for the final winter selection camp before the world junior championship.
“These games are very important as an evaluation tool,” said Hockey Canada's head scout Ryan Jankowski. “Who raises their game and who stands out against international competition?”
In the past Ho-Sang has been overlooked in the selection process and felt his omission was personal, rather than based on his play. This summer in an interview he called the fact he had never been invited to a world junior camp “insulting’’.
On Tuesday afternoon, the first-round pick of the New York Islanders was far more tempered when talking about his Super Series invitation.
“It’s a big opportunity and I’m really excited about it,” said Ho-Sang in a phone interview from Windsor.
“They bring in (roughly) 40 players from the OHL, 40 players from the WHL and 40 players from the (QMJHL), so I’m glad that they acknowledged me as a top player in the OHL and now I just have to prove it at the next stage.”
The 18-year-old missed the first six games of the OHL regular season serving a suspension, but since his return has two goals and five assists in three games. Last season he was Windsor’s top scorer averaging more than a point per game with 32 goals and 53 assists in 67 games.
“Josh is a very exciting player,” said Jankowski. “He’s one of the most skilled players in the (OHL) and he deserves an opportunity in these games. His play with Windsor, both last year and this year, has given him an opportunity.”
Jankowski added one of the biggest challenges facing Ho-Sang at this point is the fact he’s only 18 in a tournament that has always favoured 19-year-old players. That’s not an issue as far as the Toronto native is concerned.
“I’ve been playing against 19-year-olds for the past two or three years,” said Ho-Sang, who was not invited to Hockey Canada’s summer camp in Montreal. “Last year I was playing against a majority of (19)95s (birth year players) in the OHL and I thought I did pretty well.”
And unlike last year, when Team Canada only brought 25 players to their final camp, this time there could be more opportunity for players to get a longer look. The idea of limiting the number of players with a hard number set beforehand was not ideal. At the 2014 world junior championship in Malmo, Sweden, the Canadians finished fourth for the second consecutive year.
“It’s going to depend on the players this year – I don’t think we have a set number,” said Jankowski of the final camp invites. “If 32 players deserve an opportunity to be seen, we’ll bring in 32 players and if 26 deserve it, we’ll bring in 26 players. That’s one thing we learned last year is that we handcuffed ourselves a little bit with only bringing 25 to camp and setting that number ahead of time.
“What we want to do is have the players dictate the amount of players we’re going to bring and that’s where the (Super Series) is going to be huge in making those final determinations.”
The six-game series begins with the Western Hockey League on Nov. 10 in Saskatoon and finishes with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in Rimouski on Nov. 20. The OHL games will take place in Peterborough on Nov. 13 and in Kingston on Nov. 17.
There are 17 players who attended Team Canada’s summer camp in Montreal playing in the Super Series for the OHL, and only two returnees from last year’s squad - Owen Sound Attack defenceman Chris Bigras and Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid. McDavid, as a 16-year-old, came to the forefront as a star player who Hockey Canada could build around this year. There will be added pressure for Canada to produce with the tournament returning to home ice with games in both Montreal and Toronto.
Depending on who the NHL sends back to junior in the coming months, there could be a few extra openings in Team Canada’s lineup and players are eager to fight for positions.
“This year is huge with it being in Toronto and Montreal,” said Kingston Frontenacs defenceman Roland McKeown. “Any time that opportunity is put in front of you, it’s special. These games are a big part in the decisions that Hockey Canada makes and that’s obviously going to be crucial in their decision.’’
For Ho-Sang, who was left off the Super Series roster last year, it will be the opportunity to at least show what he’s capable of without being judged on anything other than his hockey skills. He’s looking forward to it.
“Whatever the decisions they make, they make and there’s not much I can do about it,” said Ho-Sang. “But if I can go out and play my game and give everything I have, then I’ll be happy.”