Hockey Canada development camp goes virtual ...
for a tournament that’s been cancelled.
By Steve Milton Spectator Columnist
Mon., July 13, 2020
The training camp will be conducted remotely, off
For a tournament which has now been cancelled.
“It’s uncharted territory, and we’re trying to do the best with what we have,” says Ryan Kuwabara, an assistant coach with Hockey Canada’s Men’s U-17 development camp, which runs July 19-25. “It’s tough for everyone involved.”
The 48-year-old graduate of the Hamilton Huskies program is the associate coach for the OHL’s Flint Firebirds and had been headed for his first behind-the-bench Hockey Canada coaching assignment as assistant to head coach Stéphane Julien for one of Canada’s three entries at the 2020 World U-17 Challenge. The de facto world championship was originally scheduled for early November in P.E.I., but pandemic concerns forced Hockey Canada to cancel the tournament, after deciding that its own teams’ training camps would be held only virtually.
There were 66 berths available on the three teams and 113 players had been, and still are, invited to the development camp, including prolific-scoring Hamilton Huskies U16 AAA winger Justin DeZoete who was taken by the Peterborough Petes in the 2020 OHL draft’s second round, fellow Petes’ selection Sam Alfano of Cayuga, Burlington’s Matthew Morden (Sarnia Sting draftee) and Ryan McGuire (Guelph Storm), plus Hamilton Bulldogs’ first-rounder Jorian Donovan.
But instead of zooming across the ice, they’ll be Zoom-ing on their video screens.
“It was pretty frustrating not being able to go to Calgary for a development camp and then finding out the actual competition in November was being cancelled,” said the 16-year-old Westmount student. “But obviously the health of everyone involved is the top priority.”
Without the head-to-head peer comparison of a standard training camp, it was going to be difficult to choose the final 66 for the world tournament. That won’t be necessary now, but Hockey Canada officials are still hopeful they can assemble a competition in the late fall to get the top 16-year-olds in the country on the ice together.
“We want to have something, because this is such a big piece of the national program,” said Hockey Canada spokesperson, a Huskies Alumnus as well, Spencer Sharkey. “It’s the initial stage, where they get introduced to the Program of Excellence. We’ll keep monitoring it, but we are not going to do anything to put anyone at risk.”
Kuwabara, who played for Japan in the 1998 Olympics, has worked with the U-17 program as a video coach at the 2018 Worlds, and as a guest coach at last year’s camp. Burlington’s Chad Wiseman, the Guelph Storm associate coach, is also an assistant coach with the 2020 U-17s.
“Just to be able to start coaching with Hockey Canada is exciting, something I value and appreciate,” Kuwabara says. “Not everyone gets to do it. It’s an honour for the kids, because they were selected as the best (of) their age in all of Canada.”
No argument on that from DeZoete, an all-round athlete who won the 2019 OFSAA bronze medal in the midget men’s 400-metre dash.
“I’ve been watching Hockey Canada teams forever, the world juniors, U-17, U-18, the Olympics,” he said. “And to be recognized by them is just surreal.”