Photo: Hockey Canada
RED DEER, AB — Somewhat unexpectedly, Bowen Byram has become one of hockey’s bubble experts.
As one of just six returning players for Canada’s U20 squad at the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championships, Byram has spent more time than most inside a bubble. Canada kicked off its month-long training camp Tuesday in Red Deer, Alberta.
Team Canada arriving in Red Deer for the #WorldJuniorspic.twitter.com/2MhKgmNeKE
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 17, 2020
The 19-year-old defenseman, who was the fourth overall pick by the Colorado Avalanche in 2019, basked in the glory of hotel rooms and plenty of teammate time, travelling to sunny Edmonton for an abbreviated summer vacation.
He joined Colorado for the NHL’s restart this summer, after the COIVD-19 pandemic paused the season, and was with the team until they were eliminated by the Dallas Stars in Game 7 of the Western Conference second round.
Bryam, in his 41 days inside the bubble, never suited up for the Avs, but learned plenty.
“The biggest thing I tried to learn is professionalism on and off the ice. Your everyday life and what that looks like. Being around guys like that definitely helps. I tried to watch little things,” said Byram in a zoom conference call from the Westerner Park Centrium, where team Canada is situated for the next month during training camp.
“I tried to watch little things they do on and off the ice and whether it’s just learning from it. I think I did a good job and I think it’ll help me now and in the future.”
His task will be to lead Team Canada through a bubble of its own for the next month and beyond, in their quest for gold in Edmonton. Team Canada will shift its bubble to Edmonton for the tournament in mid-December.
Forty-six players from across Canada are at camp in Red Deer, which will feature practices, intra-squad games and exhibition games against several Canadian university teams.
Team Red and White Rosters for Team Canada’s World Juniors Selection Camp: #WorldJuniors #HockeyTwitter pic.twitter.com/ozc3O26odv
— Lukas Weese (@Weesesports) November 17, 2020
Canada is the defending gold medalist at the World Juniors, after knocking off Russia in the final last year in the Czech Republic. Kirby Dach, the third overall pick in that same 2019 draft, missed out on that experience because he played almost a full NHL season last year– and was with the Chicago Blackhawks in the bubble in Edmonton.
Dach was a revelation in the playoffs, helping the Hawks upset the hometown Oilers and notching six points in nine playoff games as a rookie.
“I took some time off and found a new training regime and realized how much it helped me with my body and was able to add size in the right way and do things off the ice that really helped my game take a step to the next level,” Dach said of the pause.
“When I got back to Chicago, I knew there was a position to be filled and I wanted to be that guy that could take on those extra minutes and help our team win.”
Byram added that simply getting back on the ice Tuesday was unique.
“It was good, it’s been a long time since a lot of the guys, myself included, have been involved in a really competitive practice. It was just getting out there and trying to knock some rust off and get used to the systems that the coaching staff is putting in place,” said the Delta, B.C. native.
“All and all, just trying to get your feet underneath you.”
Dylan Cozens, another veteran on the squad, who played his entire WHL career with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, is the most familiar player at camp with the Centrium ice. Cozens was a huge part of the team that won gold last year.
“It’s going to be something different. We’re here early– lots of time to gel and become close with each other and I think it’s going to be good for us in the long run,” added Cozens, who was picked seventh overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2019.
Byram also had some insight into Canada’s youngest player, 16-year old phenom Shane Wright, who tore it up in his Ontario Hockey League rookie season with the Kingston Frontinacs. Bryam is Wright’s roommate, but no fights over TV time yet.
“I’ve got to know him a bit already through the first day we’ve been here. He’s an exceptional player and I think the first thing I noticed was how mature he is– how strong he is. He doesn’t stand out in a negative way on the ice,” Byram said.
“He’s an unbelievable player and with the numbers, he put up where he played last year as an underage guy… the biggest thing I’ve told him is to just enjoy himself and not put too much pressure on himself.”
One player that is noticeably absent from camp is Alexis Lafreniere, who was the first overall pick by the New York Rangers in the 2020 NHL Draft. He is training for the anticipated start of the NHL season and won’t report to play for Canada.
Nothing like fresh ice. 😁
Stay tuned for more – lots more – from the first few days in Red Deer. #WorldJuniorshttps://t.co/0wSsJk7ecs pic.twitter.com/5bUiKLYbuE
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) November 18, 2020
Canada is back on the ice Wednesday and will play the first Red and White game on Saturday, which will be aired live on TSN in Canada.
By Byron Hackett