Happy December! The final month of the year means two things: it’s Christmas time, as the holiday season and commercialism really ramps up; and, more importantly, it’s World Juniors time.
That’s right! From Dec. 26, 2015 to Jan. 5, 2016, 10 of the best hockey nations in the world will converge on Helsinki, Finland to find out whose children are the best of them all. Canada will, of course, be one of those nations.
But first, they’ve got to build a team. And two Flames prospects have the opportunity to be a part of it. Brandon Hickey and Mason McDonald have been invited to Team Canada’s selection camp, which runs from Dec. 10-13.
G Mason McDonald
Selected just 30 picks after Sam Bennett in 2014, Mason McDonald is one of two Flames goalie prospects still playing in juniors. The 19-year-old plays for the Charlottetown Islands out of the QMJHL, a league notorious for not being particularly friendly to things like defence or goaltending.
McDonald currently spots a .893 save percentage over 17 games: an ugly number in normal circumstances, and even in the Q, he’s 11th overall. Yet McDonald has caught Team Canada’s eye. When you look outside of the Quebec league, it’s easy to see why: he posted a .941 save percentage over two games at Team Canada’s summer showcase.
On the other hand, during the CHL Canada Russia Series, McDonald was last in save percentage, with a .871 in the one game he faced off against the Russian juniors (and won).
Over a limited sample size, it looks like McDonald has potential, as long as he’s playing behind a defence better than one of QMJHL caliber. Which Team Canada should have, of course.
D Brandon Hickey
Selected 64th overall in 2014, Brandon Hickey has fast risen up the Flames’ defensive prospect depth charts. The 19-year-old was drafted out of the AJHL, and is now in his sophomore year for the Boston University Terriers. In his rookie season, he was part of a squad that just fell short of the national championship, playing on a Jack Eichel-boosted team; in his sophomore season, he has four goals and six points over 14 games thus far.
Hickey was invited to Team Canada’s summer showcase in which he played two games, and scored one goal. He’s a smart defenceman who’s an excellent skater, and shoots the puck a lot, leading all BU defencemen in shots so far this season. The Flames are one team definitely excited about him; hopefully, Team Canada is as well.
Who makes it?
Considering how the only other goalie invited to the camp is the Barrie Colts’ Mackenzie Blackwood, McDonald is a lock. Blackwood has a .930 save percentage on the season, and at Team Canada’s summer showcase, was the only goalie with better numbers than McDonald with a .975 save percentage over three games. He also had a shutout in the 2015 Canada Russia Series for Team OHL.
Blackwood is a year younger than McDonald, which means he’ll be eligible to return to Team Canada’s National U-20 team for the 2017 World Juniors. That, and his better numbers, may very well give him the inside edge on the starter’s position; however, the two will likely battle it out throughout camp and the round robin portion of the tournament before one of them is truly anointed.
As for Hickey, he’s competing with 10 other defencemen, so there will definitely be cuts in that department; Hickey, however, has a good shot of making it, having already showcased himself to Team Canada and performing rather well. He’s also one of the bigger defencemen invited. That, combined with the fact that he can actually play, should see good things for him.
Hickey will be competing with Thomas Chabot, draft-eligible Jakob Chychrun, Travis Dermott, Vince Dunn, Haydn Fleury, Joe Hicketts, Noah Juulsen, Roland McKeown, Travis Sanheim, and Jake Walman for a spot.