Meet the 4 Oil Kings looking to crack Team Canada's World Juniors lineup
Oil Kings Kaiden Guhle, Dylan Guenther, Jake Neighbours and Sebastian Cossa have all been invited to Team Canada's World Juniors selection camp in Calgary.
Edmonton Oil Kings netminder Sebastian Cossa nearly missed the call to represent his country.
A Hockey Canada representative phoned him late last month with the good news, but dialled just as Cossa was about to deliver a speech at the team’s annual Toastmasters event.
“I got the call during that and I texted him and told him I’ll have to call him back later,” he said.
Cossa later returned the call and learned he would be one of four Edmonton Oil Kings – along with teammates Dylan Guenther, Jake Neighbours and Kaiden Guhle – invited to Team Canada’s World Juniors selection camp starting in Calgary today.
“You watch it every year growing up and you wish you could be in it one day, but it’s reality now,” he said of the World Juniors.
Thirty-five players, including seven Albertans, were invited to try out. Twenty-five will make the team, with camp concluding on Dec. 12 ahead of the tournament’s Boxing Day start.
Cossa, 19, was one of three goaltenders named to the camp roster and with COVID-19 still a concern, Team Canada will carry all three netminders into the tournament.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Cossa said. “The entire country is watching and you want to do well for them.”
The six-foot-six Detroit Red Wings first-round pick known for his size and athleticism has been among the Western Hockey League (WHL) leaders in wins and save percentage over the last two seasons.
But scouts are also drawn to his calmness under pressure, a quality he says developed from the adversity he and his family faced in the wake of the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires that came within a block of their home.
“Understanding that there’s not much you can do about it and putting that to real life,” he said.
“It’s something I pulled away from that experience.”
He’s also a confident goalie, and talks with a smile about stopping his potential Team Canada teammates during Oil Kings practices.
“I got them all day,” Cossa said with a chuckle. “All day.”
‘TO BE A PART OF THAT IS MINDBLOWING’
Oil Kings forward Guenther, 18, grew up playing hockey in west Edmonton while using a shooter tutor net and homemade obstacles to hone his shot in the basement of his family's home.
“I would shoot pucks for countless hours down there and still do to this day,” he said.
His shot has hit the net 16 times so far this season, good for third highest in the WHL.
The speedy forward was selected ninth overall in the 2021 National Hockey League (NHL) draft by the Arizona Coyotes after a shortened Oil Kings season where he racked up 24 points in 12 games.
“I’m fortunate to have friends and family to watch me almost every game here,” he said of his four seasons with the Oil Kings.
His family could be watching him play in an atmosphere Guenther has yet to experience.
“I’ve played in front of a packed barn maybe once in my life and that was at the teddy bear toss game,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t think it brings the same emotion that it does as when a nation comes together.”
“To think I’ll have the chance to be a part of that is mindblowing.”
‘BUILT REALLY GOOD FRIENDSHIPS’
Sherwood Park’s Kaiden Guhle, 19, will be looked to for leadership at what would be his second World Juniors.
The Montreal Canadiens draft pick very nearly made the NHL this fall before returning to captain the Prince Albert Raiders and then be traded to the Oil Kings on Dec. 1.
The physical, puck-moving defenceman is among the favourites to be named Team Canada’s captain.
“I'm prepared for that if in fact that happens,” he said. “At the end of the day, it's just a letter on your jersey and you're still a leader without one.”
Oil Kings captain Jake Neighbours could also be looked to for a leadership role.
The 19-year-old power forward and Airdrie native is now in his fifth season with the Oil Kings after spending nine games with the St. Louis Blues, where he scored his first NHL goal.
“I’m not afraid to share my knowledge or speak up to the team,” he said. “But at the same time I think I do it all on the ice.”
He says the support of his teammates will help cut through the pressure of selection camp.
“We’ve built really good friendships,” he said. “It’d be cool to represent Canada with them.”
It’s a sentiment Cossa echoes, saying his teammates will be invaluable both in camp and at the competition to come.
“Having guys that you're really close with there … it’s definitely going to be special.”