Colton Sissons has a chance to join a long line of Kelowna Rockets in representing Canada at the annual world junior hockey championship later this month.
Health permitting, Sissons will be among the 37 players auditioning for roles during Team Canada's selection camp in Calgary, Dec. 10-15. The Rockets' captain, however, is currently sidelined, having sat out Saturday's 4-2 road loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds, with Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska dubbing him 'day-to-day with an upper-body injury' that Sissons sustained in Friday's 3-2 home victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors. That was Kelowna's 10th straight win at Prospera Place and the Rockets (17-9-1-1) will look to match their franchise record with another victory over the visiting Swift Current Broncos (12-13-3-2) on Wednesday. Puck drop is 7 p.m. at Prospera Place.
Without Sissons, who has scored 10 goals and 27 points in 27 games this season, Kelowna had its five-game overall winning streak stopped against Seattle. So while Myles Bell is the Rockets' leading scorer with 18 goals and 41 points in 28 games - tied for fifth among WHL leaders - Sissons is still the straw that stirs Kelowna's drink.
"It starts with Colton," Huska said of the Nashville Predators' second-round pick in this year's NHL draft who centres Kelowna's top line between Bell and overage forward Dylen McKinlay. "This year, he feels comfortable wearing the 'C'. He had a year where he learned a lot last year, as to how to be a captain, and this year he has a good supporting cast around him of older guys that are actually believing in him and his message in our dressing room.
"That's one of the reasons we've been better - a lot of that falls on Colton."
Should Sissons be successful in cracking Canada's roster for the prestigious tournament in Ufa, Russia, Dec. 26-Jan. 5, the 19-year-old North Vancouver native would become Kelowna's 12th player and 18th team member to participate for Canada. That list includes: Tyson Barrie, Brandon McMillan, Tyler Myers, Jamie Benn, Luke Schenn, Blake Comeau, Shea Weber, Josh Gorges, Chuck Kobasew, Brett McLean and Robb Gordon, plus coaches Huska, Jeff Truitt, Marc Habscheid and Marcel Comeau, as well as trainers Jeff Thorburn and Scott Hoyer.
As for this year, as long as the NHL lockout lasts, the Canadian team will be older and stronger than in previous years.
Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and other 19-year-olds who would have otherwise been lost to the NHL were among those invited to selection camp on Monday. But there was an undercurrent of uncertainty in the announcement because of the impact a sudden end to the lockout could have on the team in the coming weeks.
With no end to the labour impasse in sight, Canada can, for now at least, anticipate icing a powerful lineup.
But head coach Steve Spott, whose day job is coaching the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers, sounds like a man who has to be prepared for anything.
"Until Dec. 26 with the uncertainty of this work stoppage, I'm trying to keep all my steno pads in order because I've got about 30 different rosters right now that I'm looking at," Spott said. "We're blessed, obviously, with a wealth of talent here in Canada.
"Until I see those players on the 26th against Germany, there's a lot of balls in the air. Ultimately, it will be great to get on the ice with them next Monday."
The junior team won gold during previous lockouts in 2005 and 1995, but those tournaments were on this continent in Grand Forks, N.D., and Red Deer, Alta., respectively.
Twenty-three players will be chosen Dec. 13 to play for Canada in Ufa. The 2005 gold was the first of five straight for Canada in the tournament, but it's been two silver and a bronze over the last three years for the Canadians, who are perennial medal contenders.
The world junior tournament was held on the smaller North American ice surface the last four years, but now returns to the larger European style of arena. So a premium was placed on skating ability when issuing invitations to camp, according to Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast.
"If they're not an excellent skater, they bring an intangible we think can help us," he said.
A new wrinkle for this team is retaining a third goaltender as insurance. A country can add a goaltender during the tournament if one of the two are injured, but the International Ice Hockey Federation doesn't allow for replacements at forward or defence.
Because it would take two days to get a goalie from Canada to central Russia, a third goalie will be asked to stay with the team on the slim chance he might play in the tournament.
That will be a tough sell to both the goaltender and his junior club trying to win games back in Canada.
"That's going to be a challenge for us, to find that third person who is going to be willing to accept that," Spott said. "If there's one thing the Canadian Hockey League has been proud of and supportive of, it's our world junior team, but ultimately this is a unique situation because of the travel challenges.
"We'll have to make sure whoever that third goaltender is - not only do we need his blessing and know he'll be able to handle it, but the support of his ownership and management of his junior team. These are all starters for their club teams."
Where the Canadian team will benefit the most from the lockout is at centre. Joining Nugent-Hopkins through the middle are second-year players Jonathan Huberdeau, Mark Scheifele and Ryan Strome. All are top-10 NHL draft picks and likely would have played in that league this season.
Huberdeau, Scheifele, Strome, winger Boone Jenner and defencemen Dougie Hamilton and Scott Harrington are the returning players from the team that won bronze at the 2012 world junior hockey championship in Calgary and Edmonton.
"People don't understand the amount of pressure that goes with wearing that sweater and having gone through that process once, it's only going to make everyone else better," Spott said.
A seventh returning player - defenceman Ryan Murray - recently suffered a season-ending shoulder injury playing with the WHL's Everett Silvertips.
This selection camp roster includes players born in 1993 or later. The players arrive in Calgary next Monday. They'll play an intrasquad game Dec. 11, followed by games against university players on Dec. 12-13. The team departs for pre-competition camp in Finland on Dec. 15.
From the 21 forwards, 12 defencemen and four goaltenders invited, Spott will choose 13 forwards, seven defencemen and three goalies.
While the world junior championship is considered a showcase of a country's 19-year-old talent, 17-year-old Halifax Mooseheads forwards Nathan McKinnon and Jonathan Drouin are among those invited to Canada's camp.
"(McKinnon) is probably the fastest player we have coming to this camp, speed-wise," Prendergast said. "Drouin has high, high-end hockey sense. He's exceptional with the puck."
A crucial position with no incumbent is at goaltender. Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls, Jake Paterson of the Saginaw Spirit, Laurent Brossoit of the Edmonton Oil Kings and Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack were invited to selection camp.
The players released from camp in 2011 and back for another try include defencemen Mathew Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels and Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers, as well as forwards Philip Danault of the Victoriaville Tigres, Ty Rattie of the Portland Winterhawks and Mark McNeill of the Prince Albert Raiders.
Dumba, 18, likes his chances of making the team out of selection camp this year.
"I think they're good. I'm going in with that optimism and that confidence," he said.
NOTES: The selection camp includes 18 players from the Ontario Hockey League, 11 from the Western Hockey League, seven from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Nugent-Hopkins from the AHL. . . . The Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and New York Islanders have the most prospects in camp with three picks apiece.
- With files from The Canadian Press