Connor Zary, snubbed and plucky, was ready to get his message across by the time media arrived at Sandman Centre on Monday, a few hours after Hockey Canada released its World Junior Hockey Championship selection-camp roster.
The 18-year-old Kamloops Blazers’ forward from Saskatoon did not make the list.
“I have no doubt in my mind that I should be there — 100 per cent,” said Zary, who is fourth in WHL scoring, with 39 points, including 19 goals, in 26 games.
“It’s something I really wanted to do, was be there. Obviously, I’m a bit pissed off that I’m not, but I’ve got a big road trip here, going close to home, with lots of friends and family, so I’m going to really use that as motivation to be at home and play really well and try and lead the league in scoring by the end of that.”
Aliaksei Protas (42 points) of the Prince Albert Raiders, James Hamblin (41 points) of the Medicine Hat Tigers and Dylan Cozens (40 points) of the Lethbridge Hurricanes are leading Zary in the scoring race.
B.C. Division-leading Kamloops (17-9-0-1) will begin a six-game tour of the East Division on Friday in Brandon.
Three WHL forwards, each of them one year older than Zary, will be at the Team Canada selection camp, which begins on Dec. 9 in Oakville, Ont.— Cozens, Nolan Foote of the Kelowna Rockets and Peyton Krebs of the Winnipeg Ice.
Foote has 30 points, including 13 goals, in 23 games. Krebs, who suffered an off-season injury and recently returned to action, has six points, all assists, in five games.
“I know there are a lot of good players out there, but, obviously, with the year I’m having so far and the points and production, I’ve shown I should be there,” said Zary.
“I’ve got a lot of comments on it today, about not being listed. I have lots of support around here, just coaches and teammates that know I could be there and that I got maybe screwed over a bit, but things happen and, like I said before, I’ve got a year to prove them wrong and to be in that tournament next year.”
Zary rattled off a few statistics to make his case.
“I scored 14 goals in November. It’s pretty frustrating,” he said. “Obviously, I can control what I can control, but I thought I showed quite a bit in the last couple months, having 19 goals and almost 40 points now. It’s something I really worked toward and got my name into the conversation into November.
“I thought that would be enough, but the hockey world is a weird place. Sometimes, things are going to happen you don’t want to.”
The NHL Central Scouting Watch List for the 2020 NHL Draft in Montreal listed Zary as a “B” prospect on Oct. 7, a rating that denoted he is likely to be a second- or third-round pick.
That perceived slight became prove-you-wrong material.
Zary finished October with a league-leading 21 points, good enough for WHL player of the month status, and was upgraded to an “A” prospect.
Now Hockey Canada's cold shoulder has touched a nerve.
“I totally think I should be there,” Zary said. “That’s everything. You grow up as a kid watching that. I worked hard on trying to be in that camp this year. Not getting that chance is pretty disappointing, but I still have lots to work toward here. It’s my draft year. There is a lot of stuff to look forward to.”
Zary continued his stellar season on Saturday by tallying the Teddy-Bear-Toss goal in a 4-1 victory over the Portland Winterhawks.
“I told my dad before the game, ‘I think I’m going to get it this year,’ and he kind of put a little wager on it,” Zary said. “He said he’d give me 100 bucks if I scored it. When I came off the ice, the first time I looked at my phone, I had a little e-transfer from him.”
That added to Zary’s currency, but was not enough for national team brass to take a gamble on him.
He seems a good bet to take frustration out on the East Division.
“That’s kind of the only thing you can do with it, is use it for motivation moving forward,” Zary said. “Today is not so great, but tomorrow the sun is going to come up and I’m going to have a lot more hockey to play.”