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Canadiens prospects relish opportunity at World Juniors selection camp in Montreal

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Canada’s World Junior camp in Boisbriand provides unique chance.

Noah Juulsen (left) and Victor Mete were two of the three Habs prospects at Canada’s World Junior camp.
Shanna Martin / EOTP

It didn’t end the way that Victor Mete had imagined it.

The London Knights defenceman, and Montreal Canadiens fourth-round pick, was among the first five players cut from Canada’s World Junior Hockey Championship selection camp on Tuesday.

Mete scored the opening goal in Canada’s 3-0 win over the U Sport All-Stars — a team composed of the top university players in Canada — but it wasn’t enough to stake his claim to one of the seven spots on Canada’s blue line.

“I thought I had a good game,” Mete said. “I showed some offensive capabilities and showed that I’m good in the defensive zone.”

Mete was on Canada’s starting pairing alongside fellow Canadiens prospect Noah Juulsen. Together, they were a +2 and when they were on the ice at even strength, they controlled 70% of shot attempts.

In a camp like this, familiarity is key. Mete and Juulsen, despite playing in the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League, respectively, had some experience together as they are both Habs prospects.

“Playing with him in the summer at the rookie tournament, I was able to know him a little bit and meet him, and it was easier to play with him today, and I think we had a good game,” Mete said.

Ultimately, however, it was not enough.

“We have 10 good defencemen,” said Canada coach Dominique Ducharme. “When we get to this stage, they are all good hockey players. The decisions will be hard to make. He did good work.”

Mete, who is only 18, will still have a chance to make Canada’s team — and fulfill a childhood dream — next year.

He can be encouraged by the path of his defensive partner. Last year, Juulsen was among the final cuts before the tournament, and now is expected to play a key role on this year’s team.

Juulsen, who didn’t play in Monday night’s game, was able to move the play and provide the team with a reliable defensive-zone presence. For a bigger player, he is very mobile and able to move the puck out of the zone with ease.

Michael McNiven, who struggled a bit Monday, got the start for the University team and allowed three goals on 27 shots. Canada had seven power plays, scoring on one of them.

It was a bit of redemption for McNiven, who looked across the ice at a bunch of talent he was already familiar with from the OHL.

After coming in cold in Monday’s game, he appreciated the fact he could get a more normal routine going on Tuesday.

“It’s a good opportunity to start and play the whole 60 minutes, and I did my best to give U Sports a chance to win,” he said after the match.

Canada will keep all three goalies heading into their final game on Wednesday against the Czech Republic, and if you assume that Carter Hart (who was perfect in 60 minutes over two games) will be Canada’s starter, the battle for the backup spot can’t get much closer.

McNiven has stopped 34/40 shots he has faced while Connor Ingram has stopped 35/40. Both goalies have played a full game for the U Sports team and half a game for Canada.

One would expect the two to split duties in a showdown against the Czechs with Hart getting a rest.

Ducharme said the challenge provided by the U Sports team provided everything he could ask for.

“I really like that they came out with the best university players from across the country and they gave us two good games and allowed for good evaluation of our guys and tools as a team to get better,” he said.

And while the camp does provide an opportunity for players to make an impact, a lot of the work in evaluating talent has already taken place.

Director of player personnel at Hockey Canada, Ryan Jankowski, says that the brain trust adds what they see at this camp to the player’s previous history.

“We take what we see here into account with the full body of work,” Jankowski said. “What they have done to start the season and now what follows up here. Our decisions aren’t fully decided on these two games or three games; it’s based on the full body of work and what we’ve seen over the last two or three years.”

While some European countries choose to go with a 12-forward, eight-defencemen approach, Canada tends to go with 13F/7D. With three goaltenders, nine defencemen, and 15 forwards remaining in camp, you can expect Canada to cut one more goaltender, two defencemen, and two forwards before the tournament begins.

Ducharme has already said that he does not want to take a club team’s starter away for two weeks to sit in the stands and that they will only have two goaltenders to start the tournament.

The final game is Wednesday at 7:00 PM EST at the Centre Excellence Sports Rousseau in Boisbriand.