Connor McClennon is back at his Wainwright home after representing Canada. The Winnipeg ICE forward was one of 22 that made the Canadian Under-18 Team, which competed at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Breclav, Czech Republic, and Piestany, Slovakia, from August 5-11.
With gold medal expectations, all was good for Connor and the team until the finals. That’s where they ran into a hot goaltender and overall solid Russian squad.
Alexandr Pashin scored twice and Vasili Ponomaryov added one as the Russians opened up a 3-1 lead on Canada. Connor assisted on the team’s first goal, which was scored on the power play by Quinton Byfield. Jean-Luc Foudy then added a goal with less than five minutes left, but it was too little, too late for Canada.
Yaroslav Askarov went on to make 35 saves to preserve the win, as Russia won their fourth gold medal in the tournament’s history.
“It was a great experience — the coaching staff to the sports staff to the management — it was all first-class,” said McClennon. “Obviously we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but we put a really good foot forward. We got stopped by a hot goaltender.”
“It was disappointing especially with the group we had,” he added. “We had nothing but the gold medal in our minds. I think we executed our plan in the final for the most part, but so did they.”
Prior to even heading overseas, July 30 will go down as a day Connor will never forget. That’s when he found out he made the 22-man roster. Shortly after that time, Connor and the team boarded a plane and hit the skies.
“It was super exciting for my family and me,” said McClennon. “Going through the whole selection process was definitely pretty nerve-racking. It was a real honour to represent Canada.”
McClennon played in all five of the team’s games, and he had two points. His one goal came in a 7-1 drubbing of the Czech Republic.
“I was happy with the role I played,” he added. “We had lots of guys that produced well. I had some chances to score more, and I would have loved to, but I’m really happy with my play overall.”
As Connor now continues preparation for his season with the Winnipeg ICE, he is taking a few things away from his experience overseas.
“I think I was reliable in the defensive zone. I was counted on to play in some big opportunities and play against teams’ other best players,” he continued. “Something I can work on is capitalizing on my chances when I get them.”
Connor will report to Winnipeg on August 24. The veterans will skate on August 26-27 and main camp gets underway on August 28.
With the organization set for their inaugural season in Winnipeg, McClennon is plenty excited to get it going.
“I’m really pumped up to see the guys and get down to Winnipeg,” he added. “It’s going to be awesome and I’m counting down the days.”
Last year, when the team played their final season in Kootenay, Connor was a regular on the score sheet. He had 29 points (14G) in 46 games. He also played for Team Canada White at the World U-17 Hockey Championships.
That’s where he really made a name for himself as he put up 11 points (8G) in just five games.
With his second full season just weeks away, Connor is excited for another opportunity to show what he can do.
“I don’t really try to put too many expectations on myself. I just want to play my game and I think I’ll get rewarded,” he continued. “I’ll go into camp with an open mind and do whatever I’m asked.”
“I’ll put my best foot forward and hopefully, that brings success for me and the entire team”
Winnipeg begins their preseason on September 6 in Brandon. Their regular-season opener is 14 days later, also in Brandon.
“We have some really good prospects, and the team has been drafting well,” he concluded. “I have confidence that, with the group we have, we can have success this year.”