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'Unfinished business': Canada opens world junior camp with Wright back in the fold

MONCTON, N.B. — Shane Wright has some loose ends to tie up at the world juniors. The same goes for Dylan Guenther. And Brandt Clarke? Well, he's still looking to get a first taste.
Shane Wright works on drills during the Canadian World Junior Hockey Championships selection camp in Moncton, N.B., Friday, December 09, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Ward

MONCTON, N.B. — Shane Wright has some loose ends to tie up at the world juniors. 

The same goes for Dylan Guenther. 

And Brandt Clarke? Well, he's still looking to get a first taste. 

Canada's under-20 men's national team got a big boost when the trio were loaned to the program by their NHL clubs earlier this week ahead of selection camp.

Wright, Guenther and Clarke joined a list of star-studded talent that already included Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli as the Canadians kicked off preparations for the 2023 world junior hockey championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Halifax and Moncton.

"Definitely some unfinished business," Wright, who was selected No. 4 by the Seattle Kraken at last summer's NHL draft, said following Friday's first on-ice session at Avenir Centre. "Nice to be back. I want to be here. 

"I want to be part of this team that wins a gold medal."

Granted exceptional status to play in the Ontario Hockey League at age 15, the forward from Burlington, Ont., was cut from Canada's 2021 world junior team as a 16-year-old. 

He made last year's squad and played in the country's two games before the tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., was called off because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

The 2022 event was revived in the summer — Canada won its 19th gold medal — but Wright skipped the event at Seattle's request as he prepared for his first professional season.

"Elite hockey player," Canadian head coach Dennis Williams said. "Just a real pro. It's great to chat with him. 

"He's gonna bring a lot of his experience and do a good job with his leadership."

Guenther also made the original 2022 world junior team at this time last year, but didn't play in August due to injury. The 19-year-old forward has three goals and 11 points in 24 games this season for the Arizona Coyotes, who picked the Edmonton native ninth overall in 2021.

"Skill, size, speed, composure with the puck," Williams said. "Has the ability to slow down a game — just a real difference-maker."

"It's awesome," Guenther said of getting another crack at world junior glory. "Every kid wants to play and every kid wants to win. 

"The first real world juniors in a while. We're excited for that. We have a good opportunity ahead of us."

Clarke was a surprise omission from Canada's original 2022 team and wasn't invited in August, but the defenceman used those snubs as fuel to make the Los Angeles Kings.

Selected one spot ahead of Guenther at the 2021 draft, the 19-year-old Ottawa native has two assists in nine NHL games in a rookie campaign that's also seen him play five times in the AHL.

"Frustrating," Clarke said of his previous world junior misses. "I thought I could have been one of the top players last Christmas (and) in the summer. It just didn't play out that way — wasn't the way they wanted to go. I took that in stride. I decided I want to make an NHL team out of (training) camp, I want to make the Kings … and that's what I did. Now it comes full circle. 

"I got to do that, and I get to do this."

Williams said the presence of three NHLers in a group that includes Bedard, who as things stand is the slam-dunk No. 1 pick at the 2023 draft, and Fantilli, who could go No. 2, was noticeable Friday.

"They were stopping on pucks, their execution was strong," said Williams, who along with Canada's management team will cut a roster of 32 to 22 on Monday. "What they don't realize is how they were leading out there by example. A lot of guys were following them and watching them. 

"It's a real positive for our program."

The presumptive top selection at last July's draft, Wright fell to Seattle after being passed over by the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes.

Since then, Wright has endured a stop-start opening three months to his pro career.

"Much different person," he said looking back at how he's grown over the last year. "I've gone through a lot.

"A little bit of adversity at times and trying to figure out my way."

The 18-year-old has played just eight games with the Kraken, but scored his first NHL goal — coincidentally against Montreal — earlier this week before heading to the Maritimes.

"Felt incredible," said Wright, who will turn 19 the day of the gold-medal game in Halifax. "A bit of a relief as well finally getting that first one. Pretty crazy feeling, don't really remember much from the celebration. 

"Pretty cool moment, definitely something to remember the rest of my life."

Now he's hoping for another accented by some shiny hardware hanging from his neck.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press