By Greg Meachem
Red Deer Advocate
Monday was a day of excitement and joy for Red Deer Rebels defenceman Haydn Fleury.
For Rebels forward Conner Bleackley … not so much.
Fleury was named to the 22-player Canadian national under-18 hockey team after a four-day camp in Toronto, while Bleackley fell short in his bid for selection.
Both players are ranked by Central Scouting as first-round picks in the 2014 NHL entry draft. Fleury lived up to his lofty ranking by being one of seven rearguards picked to the national squad, while Bleackley was simply in too tough amongst a group that was top heavy in top-flight forwards.
Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter fully expected Fleury to make the grade and represent Canada in the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament, beginning next week in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
“I’m not surprised,” Sutter said. “Haydn has made himself a top-level, elite defenceman. He’s not ranked where he is because he’s an average player. He’s the top-ranked defenceman in the WHL for next year’s NHL draft.”
As for Bleackley . . .
“Really, the depth across the country is in the forward group,” Sutter said. “There’s an abundance of real top-end forwards.
“I’m sure it’s disappointing for Conner, but for him to be asked to go there (to the under-18 selection camp) is a big plus in itself.
“From what I’ve been told, he had a good camp, but they just had a lot of talented forwards in that age group.”
Both players will be in the “go-to” category for the Rebels during the 2013-14 WHL season, the second major junior season for both.
“They will be two key players for us,” Sutter said. “They’re 17 years of age, but they’ve already been put in key situations as rookies. Now they have to take their game to another level this season. They’ll be counted upon more heavily and they have to step up their game.
“For Haydn, going to the overseas tournament will be a great experience and Conner has the experience of playing with those top-end players at the selection camp. Just being part of an evaluation camp like that will certainly help him.”
Other Western Hockey League players named to the Canadian under-18 squad are defencemen Joe Hicketts (Victoria Royals) and Ryan Pilon (Lethbridge Hurricanes) and forwards Jayce Hawryluk (Brandon Wheat Kings), Rourke Chartier (Kelowna Rockets), Brayden Point (Moose Jaw Warriors) and Jake Virtanen (Calgary Hitmen).
Coach Sutter, meanwhile, will depart Friday for the Canadian national junior team summer selection camp in Brossard, Que.
The national team head coach and his staff will run the 35 hopefuls through a two-day camp that will precede a four-team exhibition tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y., an event that will include the national junior teams from Finland, Sweden and the United States.