NEWS
12/11/2016 12:38 EST | Updated 12/12/2017 00:12 EST

Returning players experience key as Canada looks to get back in world junior medals

BOISBRIAND, Que. — The five players returning from Canada's team at last year's world junior hockey championship feel they've got something to prove the second time around.

Dylan Strome, Mathew Barzal, Julien Gauthier, Mitchell Stephens and defenceman Thomas Chabot were on the Canadian squad that lost in the quarter-finals to host Finland and finished out of the medals a year ago. Now they want gold as the event shifts to Toronto and Montreal beginning Dec. 26.

"It's pretty easy to remember," Strome said Sunday as a four-day team selection camp opened at the Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau. "It's not a good feeling.

"So many friends and people in your country watch the game, so you want to be the guy who wins the gold medal. Unfortunately we fell short, but we've got another chance this year."

The 10-team tournament for players under 20 will be played in Canada's two biggest cities for the second time in three years and, much like in 2015 when Canada won gold on home ice, they will have a relatively experienced team. Eighteen of the 31 players in camp are 19 years old and they will likely take most of the sports when the roster is trimmed to 22 at the end of camp.

The go-to players will be the returnees, led by Strome, the third overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft who started the season with the Arizona Coyotes before being returned to the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League.

What Strome learned in Finland was how quickly the tournament can end.

"You've got to take every day like it's your last," he said. "In a game like that, it's back and fourth, so you've got to stay positive and find ways to get back out there.

"We've got to see how good teams are in this tournament and know we've got to be better every day."

Two years ago, Canada was coming off a heartbreaking loss to Russia in the bronze medal game in 2014 in Malmo, Sweden and managed to bounce back with a win on home ice.

"They're hungry, especially after not winning last year," player personnel director Ryan Jankowski said of the returning players. "It's probably no different from Sam Reinhart and Curtis Lazar and Connor McDavid two years ago in Toronto and Montreal."

Canada could have had even more returning players, but it seems NHL clubs are keeping more junior age players every year. And Canada is not the only country that will be missing star 18 and 19-year-olds. Finland won't have Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine, for instance.

There are six Canadians eligible to play in the world juniors now playing in the NHL, including McDavid in Edmonton, Toronto's Mitch Marner, Lawson Crouse and Jacob Chycrun in Arizona, Travis Konecny in Philadelphia and Anthony Beauvillier with the New York Islanders.

The NHL deadline for teams to decide whether to loan a player to a world junior team is Dec. 19.

"That's what we're faced with every year," said Jankowski. "If we got those guys back, great, but we don't, so we're focused on the 31 players that are here.

"We've got high end returning players, which is great. We've got high end players who weren't here last year, which is great."

Another returnee is the head coach, Dominique Ducharme, who was an assistant last year under Dave Lowry. He wants the second year players to be leaders on the squad.

"Those guys experienced how quickly you need to adjust your game and the little things that can make a difference," said Ducharme. "To have those guys in the locker room to share that experience is really important."

Some players to watch for in camp include OHL scoring leader Taylor Raddysh, who is Strome's teammate in Erie, as well as the only invitee from a U.S. university program, Tyson Jost of North Dakota. Jost and Strome looked good playing together at the team's summer development camp.

In recent years, Hockey Canada has named its two goalies before the selection camp, but this time there are three vying for the two spots — Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips, Connor Ingram of the Kamloops Blazers and Michael McNiven of the Owen Sound Attack.

"All three deserved to be here," said Jankowski.