Canada

Mason McTavish is hoping to lead the Canadian juniors to gold, despite the nine that got away

EDMONTON—If any player could have been forgiven for skipping the summer edition of the world junior hockey championship, it’s Mason McTavish.

After all, the 19-year-old two-way centre with the Hamilton Bulldogs has already scored his first NHL goal (as a member of the Anaheim Ducks), represented Canada in the 2022 Olympics, and played in the Memorial Cup, which wrapped up June 29 (with Saint John beating Hamilton).

That’s as long a season of hockey that can reasonably be expected of anyone.

Yet while nine players from the initial 2022 squad, which only played two games due to the pandemic, declined invitations to take part in the makeup version of the championship, McTavish jumped at the chance.

“It’s been a dream of mine to play in one of these, let alone even win one,” McTavish said. “That’s our goal. Our goal is to win this thing. Obviously, we got a couple of steps to make before that. But that was it for me. Just a lot of pride for my country.”

McTavish is the captain of the Canadian entry, seeking its 19th gold medal at the world junior tournament.

“It’s incredible,” McTavish said of being named captain. “There are so many good leaders in the room, a lot of guys who wear As and Cs when they play in the regular season. It’s a pretty easy job for me to do. Just lean on those guys and the coaching staff is what I’ve been doing so far.”

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McTavish was born in Zurich because his hockey-playing father — Dale, from Eganville, Ont. — was in the midst of a 14-year European tour after playing nine games with the Calgary Flames. McTavish will centre the top line, with 17-year-old Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats and Montreal Canadiens prospect Joshua Roy on his wings.

“He’s everything you want in a hockey player and a person,” Canada coach Dave Cameron said of McTavish. “In a nutshell, he’s an NHL player. His biggest attribute is he’s got no ego. He’s a consummate team player. Low maintenance and really good.”

The Canadian team that had its tournament cut short in December after two convincing wins was loaded with 12 first-round picks and favoured to win gold.

“It sucks, for sure,” McTavish said of having the plug pulled on that tournament. “But there was really not much we could really do. I’m just thankful the IIHF got this one going. They didn’t have to do that.”

Defenceman Kaiden Guhle was the captain, but was injured toward the end of his season with the Edmonton Oil Kings and missed his summer camp with the Montreal Canadiens. Cole Perfetti of the Winnipeg Jets, Mavrik Bourque of the Dallas Stars and Xavier Bourgault of the Edmonton Oilers are also rehabbing.

The team might miss defenceman Owen Power, the first pick in the 2020 NHL draft, and centre Shane Wright, fourth in 2022, the most. They’ve chosen to focus on upcoming NHL camps, as have the likes of forwards Jake Neighbours, Justin Sourdif and Dylan Guenther.

Replacing them are forwards Roy, Tyson Foerster, Nathan Gaucher, Riley Kidney, Zack Ostapchuk, Brennan Othmann and William Dufour and defencemen Jack Thompson and Daemon Hunt.

“This whole thing of the nine guys changing over, that’s what life is,” Cameron said. “It’s an opportunity and these guys want to take advantage of it.”

This squad has eight first-round picks, the lowest number since 2018 (also eight), including seven forwards (McTavish, Foerster, Othmann, Gaucher, Kent Johnson, Ridly Greig and Carson Lambos) and goalie Sebastian Cossa, though it appears that Dylan Garand has earned the starter’s job.

But Canada is far from alone in having some players not return, leaving this tournament lacking some star power.

  • Slovakia’s success at the 2022 draft came with the price of some of their players not being made available for this tournament, including Montreal’s Juraj Slafkovský, the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, New Jersey’s Šimon Nemec, No. 2, and Montreal’s Filip Mešár, No. 26.
  • The Americans had significant turnover, with slick centre Matty Beniers, the second pick in the 2021 draft, skipping the tournament to focus on his upcoming camp with Seattle.
  • Russia, now a pariah state for its invasion of Ukraine, is not at the event, meaning there will be no matchup between Bedard and forward Matvei Michkov, who are vying to go No. 1 in the 2023 draft.

It’s not all bad news. Finland star forward Aatu Räty, who was sidelined for the winter version of the event due to COVID, gets a second chance this summer.

Some other players to watch include three Leafs prospects: forwards Matt Knies (U.S.) and Roni Hirvonen and defenceman Topi Niemelä (both Finland).

Canada’s first game is Wednesday against Latvia, which has replaced Russia. That will give scouts a chance to rate 17-year-old defenceman Niks Fenenko of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.

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