Josh Brook is ready for his opportunity on the biggest stage with the national program.
After touring with Hockey Canada at the U17 and U18 level, the 19-year-old Brook is ready to complete the program by donning the red and white at the 43rd World Junior Championship this holiday season on the west coast.
“It would mean a lot to play in the World Juniors. It’s something I grew up watching each Christmas. To play in it would be very special,” said Brook, a defenceman for the Moose Jaw Warriors.
The pieces of the Canadian World Junior club are slowly coming together, as the annual Canadian Hockey League Canada Russia Series tipped off Monday night in Kamloops at the Sandman Centre for the Western Hockey League swing.
How each player fares in their brief two-game series against the Russians could have a say in whether or not they make the squad, along with their performance in the summer camps, pre-season and regular season showings.
Brook has been on the national team’s radar for some time now.
Most recently, he received an invite to the World Junior Summer Showcase in Kamloops last July, but didn’t participate because of an injury. He was the only blue liner invited that was forced to sit out for whatever reason. Michael Rasmussen was the only WHL player at the camp not to return to the Canada Russia Series because he is currently playing for the Detroit Red Wings. Jaret Anderson-Dolan was in Kamloops in the summer for the camp, but didn’t play in the series because of an injury he recently suffered.
Of the 13 blue liners invited to camp, only Jacob Bernard-Docker of the University of North Dakota and Ian Mitchell, who plays for the University of Denver, will not play at any point in this cross-country Canada Russia Series.
So despite sitting out the first camp, it was a positive sign that Brook was invited back.
It probably didn’t hurt that his head coach in Moose Jaw was behind the bench and will front Team Canada for the holiday tournament in B.C.
After spending the last two World Junior Championships as an assistant, Tim Hunter is running this ship this time and he didn’t waste too much time in naming a leader for the WHL Russia Series.
“Josh is a really good hockey player, number one. Number two, I’ve had Josh three or four years [in Moose Jaw], so he knows me as a coach and as a person. I thought it would be a good fit to help send the message of what we are trying to do here,” said Hunter. “He’s been with Hockey Canada a number of times, so he’s a real good fit.”
The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Brook was delighted to find out that he was captain, alongside alternates Jordy Bellerive, Connor Dewar and Cody Glass.
“It meant a lot to me for him to give me [the captaincy]. There are so many other leaders on this team, he could have went with anyone,” said Brook, who also wears the C with the Warriors.
Earning an invite to the WHL showcase and being named a captain could serve as a glimpse of what Hunter thinks of the defenceman from Roblin, Man., as all eight rearguards from the team that delivered gold last year are ineligible to return.
“You can’t think about [those open rosters spots]. You just have to go out there and play your game the same way you have all season,” said the right shot Brook.
But there’s no stopping us from doing some math and thinking about who can make up this year’s back end.
Out of the four WHL defencemen to participate in the summer camp, Brook ranked third in career games played in the national program with 15, behind Ty Smith (21) and Jett Woo (16). Other notable blue liners to spend more time in the program that were invited to the summer camp were Kavin Bahl (15), Jared McIsaac (20), Markus Phillips (17) and Ian Mitchell (15).
Experience in the program could be considered valuable, as the kids came up in the system and now know what to expect. But Hunter made it perfectly clear that they are looking for more than just games logged with the maple leaf.
“We pick the best players available to us. It’s a real long process that goes into it. This is just one part of the process,” said Hunter. “That’s why [Brett] Leason is here, that’s why Trey Fix-Wolansky is here.
“We’re paying attention to anyone capable of playing for the World Junior team.”
Peering into the Ontario Hockey League, none of the three blue liners invited to the summer camp find themselves in the top 20 in league scoring by an eligible defenceman for the tournament, but all three will play for Team OHL against the Russians later this week.
2000-born blue liners Ryan Merkley (3 goals, 19 assists) and Tyler Tucker (4 goals, 13 assists) sit first and third respectively in league scoring and were named to Team OHL for their leg of the Canada Russia Series.
One name that could soak up one of the eight roster spots is Evan Bouchard, who spent seven games with the Edmonton Oilers. He produced one goal before getting sent down to the London Knights earlier this week.
A similar story is being painted even further east in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where all three summer invitees have been brought back for the Canada Russia Series.
Justin Bergeron leads the way for Canadian eligible scorers from the back end with six goals and 11 assists in 19 games. He was added to the QMHJL Russia series along with the three summer invites Noah Dobson, Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Jared McIsaac.
Even though it will be a completely new crop looking to get pucks up the ice for Team Canada, those eight spots evaporate pretty quickly with other talented players around the CHL and National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Brook is moving in the right direction and keeping his name in the mix, as he currently sits third in the WHL among eligible Canadian defenceman in scoring with five goals and 10 assists in 12 games. He’s well on his way for a career and bounce back season at Mosaic Place.
A clean bill of health has certainly been key for Brook this season, who missed a big chunk of time last season rehabbing from wrist surgery.
“The regular season has been going pretty well. We have a little bit of a younger team in Moose Jaw, but we’re getting better as we go,” said Brook. “I’m healthier this year and I worked a lot with my figure skating coach this summer and it has been an awesome improvement in my game.”
Already a smooth skater, the Montreal Canadiens prospect now has the getaway speed to blow past defenders, as he put on display Oct. 5, when he sunk the Brandon Wheat Kings with 14 ticks left on the clock in overtime.
“I think figure skating is becoming bigger in the hockey world. They skate so efficiently, there is a lot to learn from them,” said Brook.
That efficiency has given him the ability to chase down streaking forwards, like he did in the third period when he hunted down Kirill Sleplets of Team Russia.
Brook has always held his own against some of the tough covers in the WHL, using the skills he developed against some of the world’s top players and from a pair of training camps with the Canadiens.
“Montreal was such a great time [this year]. To be in their man camp and get into one exhibition game was great. There is so much to learn with those guys, day in and day out,” said Brook. “Even just watching guys at practice, my eyes were wide open to see how fast and how hard they worked. There is a reason why those guys are up there.”
Brook wrapped up the WHL Russia Series with a more confident game, which was to be expected playing on a team thrown together midway through the season.
Moving better against the Russians in Game 2, Brook fired three more shots on net, but Team WHL came out on the wrong side of things with the 3-1 loss Tuesday night at the Langley Events Centre.
So far, Brook has yet to bring home a medal from the U17 and Ivan Hlinka tournaments with Team Canada, an anomaly in the world’s top program. With the whirlwind WHL Russia Series in the books, Brook has made his way back to Moose Jaw for the back end of the first half of the season. Brook showed well in B.C. Now, all he can do is keep playing his game and hope his coach, along with the rest of Team Canada brass take notice, and give him a chance to live out his childhood dream: winning gold on home ice.