By Larry Fisher
The Daily Courier
Brett Bulmer’s chances to make Canada’s world junior team took a bit of a hit on Friday.
With the NHL’s Tampa Lightning releasing former Prince George Cougars sniper Brett Connolly and the Anaheim Ducks also delivering power winger Devante Smith-Pelly to this weekend’s Canadian selection camp in Calgary,
the forward ranks became tougher to crack. That pro-seasoned duo is all but guaranteed two of the 13 available spots, leaving 23 more forwards battling for 11 jobs — with Bulmer being in that mix.
Photo: Brett Bulmer of the Kelowna Rockets, right, looks for the puck during WHL action against Lethbridge Hurricanes at Prospera Place in Kelowna, B.C., on Wednesday, Dec. 7. The Rockets won 5-2, with Bulmer recording a goal and two assists.
The Prince George native grew up playing with Connolly and also made the jump to the NHL this season, enjoying a nine-game audition with the Minnesota Wild before getting sent back to the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.
Bulmer realizes his best bet for making Canada’s roster might be reverting back to the energy role he played with Minnesota — to be more of a grinder than a scorer.
“I think I have to play an all-around game,” Bulmer said. “They’re looking for guys that can kind of do it all. There’s a lot of great players there, so I have to make sure I stand out, make sure I’m on the body and add my offence . . . just do anything they ask because I want to be there so bad.”
Working in Bulmer’s favour is that NHL experience, versatility and his familiarity with Canada’s coaching staff — Rockets head coach Ryan Huska is an assistant to Don Hay, bench boss of the B.C. Division’s Vancouver Giants.
Still, Bulmer will have his work cut out for him with returning forwards Quinton Howden (WHL, Moose Jaw Warriors) and Jaden Schwartz (NCAA, Colorado College) also likely locks, plus six 2011 first-round NHL draft picks — Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Strome, Mark Scheifele, Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault and Zack Phillips.
If they were all to make the cut, that’s 10 forwards and only three spots left. Still not accounted for are WHL scoring leaders Mark Stone (Brandon) and Ty Rattie (Portland), with 62 and 59 points, respectively, this season heading into Friday’s games. Tanner Pearson (OHL, Barrie Colts) leads the entire CHL with 65 points in 30 games and is also attending this weekend’s camp.
For those still counting, that’s now 13 without Bulmer — a second-round NHL draft pick in 2010 — or Brendan Gallagher of the Giants, who almost made last year’s squad and has racked up 23 goals and 44 points in only 27 games playing under Hay this season.
There’s a handful of other forwards considered strong contenders for Canada, so Bulmer will certainly have to earn the right to represent his country.
“It’s going to be hard work, but I think I’m up for it and I’m going to make the most of it,” Bulmer said. “I just have to make sure I bring everything to the table. I know my offence can be there, so I just have to make sure I’m a reliable guy and bring some grit to the table because that will help them out a lot.”
Since returning to Kelowna, Bulmer has tallied 10 goals and 22 points in 14 games to sit tied for second in team scoring prior to Friday’s start of a six-game road trip in Swift Current. Bulmer suited up for that contest against the Broncos before parting ways with the Rockets, heading for Calgary while Kelowna went the other direction to Moose Jaw.
“Hopefully he’ll be gone for the whole time,” Rockets captain Colton Sissons said of Bulmer potentially sticking with Canada rather than returning for next week’s games against Brandon, Regina, Prince Albert and Saskatoon. “We’ll miss him a lot, but we’ve got the talent here for guys to step up and take on bigger roles, and I think we’ll be fine.”
The Rockets are no stranger to losing players to the world junior tournament, with no less than 11 representing Canada since 1996, including five in the last four years.
Count ’em: D Tyson Barrie (2011), LW/D Brandon McMillan (2010), D Tyler Myers and LW Jamie Benn (2009), D Luke Schenn (2008), RW Blake Comeau (2006), D Shea Weber (2005), D Josh Gorges (2004), RW Chuck Kobasew (2002), C Brett McLean (1998) and C Rob Gordon (1996).
There’s also been Kelowna imports playing for their native countries over the years, but the Canadian contingent stands out.
“I want to carry on the tradition of having a Kelowna Rocket there,” Bulmer said. “This organization has been well represented and I want to follow in the footsteps of those guys.”
Also, in Huska’s absence, Dan Lambert will act as head coach, sharing the duties with fellow assistant Ryan Cuthbert, while Kim Gellert and Kim Dillabaugh will be splitting time on the bench during this trip.