Two Saginaw Spirit players have been named to their respective country's preliminary roster for the 41st annual International Ice Hockey Federation U-20 World Junior Championships which is set to take place Dec. 26, 2016 through Jan. 5, 2017 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto (early rounds) and concluding at the Bell Centre in Montreal (medal rounds).
Last week the Spirit announced in an email that captain Mitchell Stephens (a second round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, 33 overall, in the 2015 NHL draft) had been invited to Canada's National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp taking place Dec. 10-14 in Blainville, QC. Stephens is one of five invitees who were also on last years WJC team roster.
On Thursday afternoon the Spirit announced on twitter that first year defenseman Filip Hronek (a second round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, 53 overall, in the 2016 NHL draft) had been named to the 2017 Czech Republic U-20 WJC roster.
Stephens, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound center from Peterborough, ON recorded 2-points (1-goal, 1-asst.) for the Canadian National Junior Team at the 2016 IIHF U-20 WJC in Helsinki, Finland last year. Stephens is considered one of the favorites to captain this years team. He is currently leading the Spirit in scoring this season with 28-points (11-goals, 17-asst.) despite missing the past two games with a lower body injury.
Hronek is a 6-foot, 170-pound smooth skating defenseman from Byst, Czech Republic whom the Spirit managed to acquire with the fourteenth pick in the 2016 CHL import draft. Hronek is currently leading all rookie defensemen in scoring (seventh among all D, and 34 overall) in the OHL with 21 points (4-goals, 17-asst.). An amazing puck-possession defenseman who acts as a fourth forward when he gets up with the play in transition, Hronek is also adapting nicely to the physical, North American-style of hockey in the OHL, which will prepare him for the next level.
As of yet, there has not been an invitation for second year defenseman Markus Niemelainen (a third round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, 63 overall, in the 2016 NHL draft). Niemelainen's home country of Finland took home the gold medal at the 2016 IIHF U-20 WJC in Helsinki.
Stephens and Hronek will be leaving the team just when it is starting to play some of its best hockey of the 2016-17 OHL season. The Spirit have now won 8 of its last 10 games at the Dow Event Center and are heading to Hamilton, ON for an eastern conference battle with the Hamilton Bulldogs Sat. night, followed by a trip to Oshawa, ON for a meeting with the number one team in the eastern conference, the Oshawa Generals on Sun. evening.
The 2017 IIHF U-20 WJC will be broadcast internationally in Canada and the United States on the TSN network.