With a few months remaining until the World Junior Hockey Championships kick off in Malmo, Sweden, the brass at Hockey Canada is already hard at work, eager to make last year’s fourth place finish in the tournament – their first time missing the podium since 1998 – a very distant memory.
Despite making the roster slated to represent Canada last December in Ufa, Russia, Hudon sadly never got the chance to see any real World Championship action after suffering a poorly-timed injury just days before the start of the tourney. Back again this year and more determined than ever, the Alma, Que. native is doubling his efforts to impress Team Canada’s coaching staff in a bid to finally get the chance to don the fabled red and white jersey.
“What happened last year was a very difficult thing for me to deal with – a huge disappointment. It was so hard for me to come back to Canada with nothing hanging around my neck,” explained Hudon, who went on to admit that he still hasn’t fully recovered from the back injury that sidelined him for a slew of games in 2012-13. “Right now I’m taking things day by day; employing the same strategy that [Brent] Sutter is using with our team. Take things one day at a time and don’t think about tomorrow.”
While there are never any guarantees when it comes to earning a spot on the national team, the experience Hudon picked up last year, most notably on the international stage, will likely be a major benefit in the eyes of the coaching staff. With many players that were in Team Canada’s fold last year poised to make the leap to the NHL, the ability to count on the addition of a veteran presence like Hudon should help make the winger an attractive candidate.
“I’m a bit familiar with Team Canada’s philosophy for the Juniors. There might be a new coaching staff in place, but I’m paying careful attention to what they say. This might be Sutter’s first time seeing us on the ice, but all the scouts know us pretty well,” added the Canadiens’ fifth-round pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. “I’m trying to speak to the younger players as much as possible, help out guys like [Connor] McDavid and spend as much time with him as I can. It’s up to me and the other veterans here to do whatever we can to help them adjust. If I get the opportunity to live my dream and to be a part of this team, that’s a role I’d like to continue to play.”
One person who’s had the chance to see him at his best in recent years is former Habs amateur scout and current head scout for Hockey Canada’s men’s national teams, Ryan Jankowski. Despite having spent the majority of his time in the western regions of the country, Jankowski still knows exactly what type of player Hudon is.
“Charles will surprise a lot of people who don’t really know him. He’s very well regarded by the people in this program who’ve been there before me, know his abilities and know what he could bring to the table,” shared Jankowski. “Even though I wasn’t really involved in the process when he got drafted by the Canadiens in 2012, I know a lot about him, I’ve heard great things about him and I’ve seen him play internationally for Team Canada in the past.
“I think that in his own mind, he wants to prove a lot. He made the team last year but unfortunately he got injured,” he continued. “He wants to really show that even if he’s regarded as returning player, he really isn’t. I expect big things from Charles this year. I think he’s going to play a key role for us, yet I don’t know what that role is going to be.”
Hudon isn’t the only Canadiens prospect out to prove he belongs on Canada’s national team. Just like the Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward, goaltender Zachary Fucale is working his hardest to convince Team Canada’s brass that he deserves to spend this holiday season donning the pads for them in Europe.
A serious candidate to become Canada’s No. 1 goaltender in the tournament thanks to his incredible performances this past season with the Halifax Mooseheads, Fucale has no interest in discussing past successes, intent instead on looking toward the future and letting his work in the crease speak for itself.
“I’m not even thinking about being the No. 1 goaltender, so I’m not feeling any extra pressure because of that. This is just a preparatory camp and all I’m here to do is play my best,” underlined last spring’s President’s Cup and Memorial Cup winning goaltender. “When the season starts, I’m just going to keep doing the same things and competing as hard as I can. No matter what happens, I’ll deserve what I get. Right now the only thing I need to worry about is to keep working and keep developing.
“I’m going to have to prove myself again. Everything starts fresh with every new season. All the things that happened over the past weeks and months don’t really count anymore,” he confessed. “Every player here is looking to prove themselves all over again. It’s key that whenever we step out onto the ice we have to be focused on performing at our highest capacity.”
On hand to witness Fucale’s dominance at the Memorial Cup tournament in Saskatoon, Jankowski couldn’t agree more with the young netminder’s assessment. With the subject of the Canadian national team’s starting goalie a hot topic every year, the team’s head scout insists that it’s Fucale’s performance over the course of this fall that will ultimately decide his fate.
“Zach comes with a very strong resume. He was the starting goalie last year with the Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament team that won gold. Obviously he won the Memorial Cup as a 17-year old goaltender with Halifax and yet he will have to prove himself here and stay hot through the first half of his season,” expressed Jankowski. “I expect that we’re going to see big things from him. He’s a proven winner, he’s had a tremendous year last year, yet at the end of the day, it’s going to be the best goaltender come Christmas-time that will get the nod for the World Junior team.”
With the face off for Canada’s first match of the World Juniors against Germany only four months away, Habs fans should have an excellent chance to see two of the team’s young prospects shine on an international stage this holiday season.
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Justin Fragapane.
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