Sometimes no news is the best news of all.
Noah Juulsen and Jérémy Lauzon can vouch for that.
It was just over two weeks ago, on Dec. 14, when the two defencemen waited quietly in their hotel rooms as the coaches and management staff of Canada’s National Junior Team summoned certain players for one-on-one meetings.
As the clock ticked toward midnight, it became clear a call was not coming for them.
Instead, Juulsen and Lauzon, and 20 other players, received word that they were part of Canada’s final roster for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“We all came out of our rooms slowly and started hugging and congratulating one another,” says Juulsen.
Contrast that with 12 months earlier and you can understand why Lauzon admits he was screaming in his room.
One year ago Juulsen and Lauzon flew to Finland, still fighting for a spot at the World Juniors. Come Boxing Day they were back at home with their club teams.
In between they endured a three-hour bus ride between their final selection camp game in Imatra and the hotel in Helsinki, where they were pulled aside and told they had been cut, and an even longer trip back home.
For Juulsen, it was Helsinki to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Vancouver.
“That was one long flight. It kept going like it was forever,” he says. “There’s thoughts going through my head that entire flight – what you could’ve done, what you should’ve done – but I think in the end I knew I had another chance this year and it put a fire in my belly to come in motivated this year to make the team.”
In reality there was nothing either could’ve, should’ve done differently.
“Sometimes we let people go and they’re just a year away,” says Joël Bouchard, part of the Program of Excellence management group. “I think with those two players that’s what it was.”
Defence is a position where you need mileage, says Bouchard, and over the past 12 months both players logged plenty. There were playoff runs – Juulsen with the Everett Silvertips; Lauzon with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies – and training camps with the NHL teams that drafted them – the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, respectively.
“They did what they had to do in the summer,” says Bouchard. “They did what they had to do at the beginning of the season. They did what they had to do at the camp. And that’s what earned them the spot. Those guys came last year. They did their best. It was a year away and now it’s the right time.”
It’s cliché to say, but from great disappointment can come even greater motivation.
“It was a disappointment because I wanted to make that team, but after that I said to myself, ‘It’s life, so move on,’” says Lauzon. “I concentrated on playing a better game with my junior team.” Lauzon helped the Huskies win the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship and advance to the championship game at the 2016 Memorial Cup.
The 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship marks Lauzon’s first time playing for Canada at any level. Until last year’s selection camp he’d never received so much as an invitation, and even that came with an asterisk. Lauzon was an injury replacement called in two days before camp. All he did was nearly make the team.
“I knew that I was close,” he says. “This year I knew I had a big chance to make the team and I just wanted to make sure to prove to the coaches that I have my place here.”
Says Bouchard: “For me he’s a guy who’s got a little bit of a bite on the back end; he’s got that little edge that we all like as coaches and management.”
Juulsen is also be getting his first taste of international competition, although not his first chance wearing the Maple Leaf. He won a silver medal with Pacific at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Injuries and playoff success delayed his debut for a national team.
“When you’re at the world stage, facing highly-skilled forwards, you need to be a really good defender, which he is,” says Bouchard. Juulsen is also going to get his share of points at the other end of the ice. “For me he’s a solid person with a solid game. He’s a partner that’s easy to play with.”
A spot on the team this time around seemed more secure; Juulsen dressed for only one of three games at the team’s selection camp.
And after a 2-0 start, Canada has secured a spot in the quarter-finals, which the team will play in Montreal. It’s a prospect that has the Habs prospect excited, as does the reality of now having a role in an event he grew up watching.
“You still know all the guys on the team and you cheer them on, but it was tough to watch [last year] knowing you could’ve been there,” says Juulsen. “It’s every kid’s dream to play in the World Juniors, and I think to win a gold medal would complete everything.”