The Canadian team began preparations for the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships Edition 2.0 in Edmonton on Tuesday.
The host country will kick off the August 9-20 championship against Latvia on August 10 at Rogers Place.
The 10-country tournament, minus Russia, is banned from participation by the International Ice Hockey Federation because of that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The inaugural 2022 championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., was canceled Dec. 29 after just four days due to rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials, forcing game losses.
Hockey Canada is hosting these world juniors in the shadow of federal scrutiny and a wave of public criticism for its handling of alleged sexual assaults by members of previous junior teams in 2018 and 2003.
Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player and victims’ rights advocate, is among those calling for the resignation of Hockey Canada President Scott Smith and the board of directors.
Improved character screening for all high-performing players was among a series of remedial actions announced in a plan of action by Hockey Canada last month.
“We certainly have a heavy load on our shoulders,” said forward Mason McTavish, who was named Canada’s captain at the Calgary camp opening on Tuesday.
“We have an opportunity not to obviously clear the name but maybe to help improve and bring us back…it’s Canada and the World Juniors is a great event, especially for Canadians. We have a great opportunity to improve and take another step to get back to where we were.”
The 25 players who were named to Monday’s junior roster attended a code of conduct seminar that evening, delivered by Hockey Canada’s director of sports safety, Natasha Johnston. Another session on sexual violence was scheduled for Tuesday.
“It’s obviously a really serious thing,” said forward Kent Johnson. “You play for the nation and all the kids at home are watching. I think it’s still an honor to represent your country.”
The IIHF Men’s U20 Tournament is considered a showcase of the best male U19 ice hockey talent in the world.
The IIHF has allowed players born in 2002 and over the age of 20 to continue competing in the summer replay.
Cameron returns as Canada’s head coach in a different scenario with no selection camps and a major championship being played after a short mid-summer camp.
“A bit odd, to be honest,” Cameron said at the Tsuut’ina Nation’s 7 Chiefs Sportsplex. “Two good things about it for me are that I don’t have to cut anyone. That’s the hardest part of this job when you have to send kids home. And the second part of that is that I know most of the players.”
The goalkeeping trio of Dylan Garand, Sebastian Cossa and Brett Brochu are back, but the squad has been changed by nine players from December’s line-up.
Previous captain Kaiden Guhle and top defender Owen Power did not return. Neither forward Shane Wright, the No. 4 in last month’s NHL draft, nor Winnipeg Jets forward Cole Perfetti.
Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard, the likely No. 1 NHL draft pick in 2023, and Olympic men’s team forwards McTavish and Johnson lead Canada’s forwards in Edmonton.
“We only have eight days to prepare for this, which is a little less than usual,” Bedard said. “I think everyone comes with the attitude of winning a gold medal. We’re doing everything we can in the first few days of training and in the gym to achieve that goal.”
Jack Thompson, who did not attend December’s selection camp due to the COVID-19 quarantine, and Daemon Hunt were added to the lineup at defense in August.
Tyson Foerster, Nathan Gaucher, Riley Kidney, Zack Ostapchuk, Brennan Othman, William Dufour and Joshua Roy are moving in for Wright, Perfetti, Xavier Bourgault, Mavrik Bourque, Jake Neighbors, Justin Sourdif and Dylan Guenther.
Cameron would not comment on players who opted out.
“I’m just focused on the guys I have here,” he said.
Garand is the only player returning from the Canada team that won world junior silver in Edmonton in 2021.
“The tournament is getting a little more scrutiny this year as it’s sort of like the first juniors in the world since the allegations and whatnot,” Garand said.
“For us and our team, we’re just here to focus on hockey and ultimately winning a gold medal is our goal.”