(ISN) – The road to the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship officially began last August, when 41 players gathered in Montreal, Que., for Canada’s National Junior Team Sport Chek Summer Development Camp.
Fast forward just over four months, and 20 of the 22 players named to the final Team Canada roster were in attendance and on the ice at summer camp.
The two that weren’t – Lawson Crouse and Joe Hicketts – missed out for different reasons.
For Crouse, not seeing his name on the summer camp roster was not as big a surprise as making the final roster. That’s because the forward was busy with other national team duties – helping Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team win a seventh straight gold medal at the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
“Obviously the Hlinka is something I was looking forward to all year long, so when I got the invite to go I was very happy,” Crouse says. “It was nice to go there, and even better to win a gold medal.”
Crouse’s performance in the Czech Republic and Slovakia – a team-leading six goals in five games – and a hot start with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs got him on the World Juniors radar, and he made the most of his opportunity, joining Connor McDavid as the lone 17-year-olds on the Team Canada roster.
“It’s pretty amazing,” the Mount Brydges, Ont., native says. “Obviously, I was in a different situation coming in as an underage player. I came in with a positive attitude and wanting to make this team, and it has paid off.
“You can learn from some of the guys in that room like Lazar and [Anthony] Duclair,” he says of what he can take from the experience. “It’s nice to talk with them and learn from what they’ve gone through and try and implement those things towards your game.”
Hicketts, on the other hand, was somewhat of a surprising omission from the summer camp roster, having helped Team Canada win a bronze medal at the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship last April.
The defenceman was determined not to be passed over twice.
“I think every time you get left off a list, there’s added motivation that comes with it,” says Hicketts. “I wanted to work as hard as I could not only for the World Juniors, but to have a chance to get a good start with my club [team].”
His start with the WHL’s Victoria Royals hasn’t been too bad – Hicketts leads all WHL defencemen in scoring with 38 points (eight goals, 30 assists) in 31 games, which helped him earn an invite to selection camp and, eventually, a spot on Team Canada.
After missing all but 36 games last season with a torn tendon in his arm, the blue-liner knew his climb to the World Juniors was a little more uphill, and that hard work was the only way to get noticed by Hockey Canada.
“It was obviously a disappointment not getting a go the first time around, but it’s all about preparation,” he says. “You need to be ready and willing to do it all to prove that you belong at that next level.”
Proving he belongs is something Hicketts has become accustomed to. After being called out by numerous scouts for being too small (5-foot-8, 186 pounds), he went undrafted in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, before being invited to the Detroit Red Wings development camp and inking his first professional contract.
“He’s a small little guy but people underestimate him,” says Curtis Lazar, who knows Hicketts from their days in B.C. Hockey’s provincial program. “He’s shifty out there and he’s crafty with the puck.”
“He’s a realist; he keeps everything in perspective,” adds Dave Lowry, a Team Canada assistant coach who is Hicketts’ head coach in Victoria. “It’s his determination and his understanding that you have to get better every day [that make him] a resilient player.”
So while their paths may have been different, Crouse and Hicketts find themselves together, during the holidays, in red and white, representing Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
And not even they can believe it.
“It’s an honor in itself to be selected to the camp,” Hicketts says. “But to be named to this roster, that’s just surreal.”