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JONES: Kirby Dach highlights Canadian roster for World Juniors

Mikko Koskinen of the Edmonton Oilers tends net against Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.
Mikko Koskinen of the Edmonton Oilers tends net against Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.

Kirby Dach is becoming a professional bubble hockey player.

After playing a prominent role in the Chicago Blackhawks upsetting the Edmonton Oilers in the Qualifying Series of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the Hub City, the Fort Saskatchewan native will be headed back into the bubble for a potential 51 days.

Team Canada’s chances to defend their gold medal became decidedly better with Chicago GM Stan Bowman agreeing Thursday morning to loan Dach to the national program for almost two months if the NHL hasn’t returned to play by the end of the event.

Only minutes before a virtual press conference to make the training camp announcement Wednesday, Team Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior in Edmonton improved dramatically.

Hockey Canada had revealed a 46-member roster for a marathon training camp in Red Deer just prior to the media event that didn’t include either Dach or Alexis Lafreniere, the first overall pick in the recent NHL draft.

Lafreniere is a possibility to join Dach on what will eventually end up as a 25-man roster instead of the usual 23 for the COVID-19 version of the tournament. Discussions are ongoing with the New York Rangers to have the star of the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament held in Rogers Place 15 months ago join the team as well.

“I think Dach can bring leadership after a season with guys like Jonathan Toews. He’s been in the bubble as well to add that experience and that will be really helpful,” said Team Canada head coach Andre Tourignay. “He’s a great young player and a really good person so we’ll rely on him as a leader.”

By the Christmas Day start to the Hub City bubble hockey version of the 2021 IIHF World Junior to held with no fans in the stands entirely in Edmonton, Team Canada expects to have a reasonable chance to be up to speed with the European players that have been playing with club teams.

“I never coached a team of players that were off for seven months,” said Tourignay.

He figures few teams have ever headed to a tournament with the same level of excitement or energy.

“I’m dying every day to go back to the rink and the players are the same. Wednesday when we called them, I think if we told them it was 151 days in a bubble, not 51, I think we would have had them. They are excited. They want to play hockey.”

He said it’s different than with the NHLers who were here before them.

“It’s different when you are leaving a six-month old kid and a three-year-old kid and your wife and one of them sets sick and you’re in the bubble. That’s tough. I don’t think any of our players have a three-month-old kid, a three-year-old kid or a wife.

“These guys have trained for six or seven months now. Kirby Dach played less than a month in the last seven months for the Chicago Blackhawks. Ask him if he wants to play hockey. It’s the same thing for everybody.”

Hockey Canada announced, along with the list of 46 players invited to attend, the plan for a marathon training camp to be held in Red Deer that will be extended with a trip up the QEII to enter the bubble with the nine other teams in Edmonton.

The Red Deer camp will run from Nov. 16 to Dec. 13.

The Central Alberta city was originally to play host to Group B round-robin games in the 2021 tournament but due to the coronavirus pandemic, following the almost flawless start-to-finish presentation of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs in Edmonton’s Hub City bubble, it was decided to hold the entire tournament in Rogers Place. The Edmonton-Red Deer combination will return for a planned normal World Junior with sold out crowds.

Inviting now 47 players to camp invites was complicated by the fact that both WHL and OHL seasons have been pushed back until after the Dec. 25-Jan 5 tournament.

“It’s a unique year for all of us and a major challenge,” said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada senior vice president of national teams.

This camp is going to have some evaluation to it. Normally we’d have evaluated the players at the start of their seasons with their club teams.

We haven’t had that opportunity.

“We’ll start by evaluating. We’ll use some intra-squad games to be able to do that. We’ll reduce the number of players somewhere in the first week to 10 days. We’re in discussion with our partners at USports to play six games,” he said of the preparation prior to the two pre-Christmas games against Sweden and Russia in Rogers Place.

The players headed to Red Deer include five goaltenders, 15 defencemen and 26 forwards. A total of 18 OHL, 15 WHL, 9 QMJHL and 4 US college players are headed to Red Deer for the Nov. 17 to Dec. 13 camp at the home of the WHL Red Deer Rebels. All but five players have already been drafted.

Among the 47 players are six returnees who won gold in the Czech Republic last year — Bowen Byram, Dylan Cozens, Jamie Drysdale, Quinton Byfield, Connor McMichael and Dawson Mercer.

With Dach involved and likely Lafreniere on deck, they’ll be viewed by many as the supporting cast.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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