Wolves prepare for international action: Byfield to play in Canada Russia Series, while McCallum, Stillman bound for U17s

Quinton Byfield, right, of the Sudbury Wolves, attempts to fire a puck past Lucas Peric, of the Ottawa 67's, during OHL playoff action at the Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ont. on Thursday April 11, 2019. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

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Quinton Byfield’s labours are already bearing fruit, and not just goals and assists.

The Sudbury Wolves’ star sophomore centreman, off to a fantastic start with a league-leading 20 points in 10 games as of Wednesday, has been named to Team OHL for the CIBC Canada Russia Series next month.

The series is a key step in the process of picking Canada’s entry in the IIHF World Junior Championship, to be played in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

“It feels like everything I have worked for is finally getting recognized,” smiled Byfield, speaking to The Sudbury Star on Wednesday afternoon. “All the hard work, all the hours I have put in, it’s getting recognition, which is really good. It’s definitely a dream to play for Canada at the world juniors.”

Byfield will dress for games against a Russian all-star squad in Kitchener on Nov. 7 and London on Nov. 10. The Russians will also play two games each against teams from the Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“A lot of good players have played in these games, it’s two pretty big games in two goods places, Kitchener and London, and I think those are going to be fun buildings to play in and it should be very exciting for me.”

Byfield isn’t the only Sudbury skater who will compete internationally in the near future. Hockey Canada announced on Wednesday that Wolves rookie forwards Landon McCallum and Chase Stillman were among 66 players named to Canada’s three entries in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, to be contested in Medicine Hat, Alta., and Swift Current, Sask., Nov. 2-9

Sudbury native Max McCue, a freshman forward for the London Knights, will also participate.

“It’s nice to see our young guys get included in the start with Hockey Canada,” Wolves head coach Cory Stillman said. “We had Quinton and Jack (Thompson) last year and the year before, we had Blake (Murray). It’s a start, a bit of what they did in minor midget and a bit of what they have done at the start of this year.”

Coach Stillman was in no way surprised to see Byfield make the Canada Russia Series roster, even if roster spots are usually reserved for older players.

“He’s the best player in our league and he deserves the recognition that he is getting,” Stillman said. “It’s a chance for him to come in and make a good impression and as a coach, as an organization, we want him to be good enough to play for the world junior hockey team.”

Along with Byfield’s skill, his hockey sense and his physical attributes, Stillman said the 17-year-old’s attitude has made him a pleasure to coach.

“The best thing about Q is he comes to the rink every day and he works hard,” Sudbury’s coach said. “You get him on the ice, he has fun, he enjoys scoring goals in practice and he works hard all the time, and you can see the end result on the weekend,  usually starting on a Friday night.”

Byfield is pleased with his performance so far, though he certainly doesn’t take all the credit for his success.

“I’m getting a lot of support from my coaches, my teammates,” said Byfield, who typically lines up between 20-year-old co-captain Shane Bulitka and 18-year-old Carolina Hurricanes prospect Blake Murray. “I’m getting all the opportunities I need early and the line chemistry has been working pretty well together, but I know there’s another step to my game that I can definitely add, so I’ll just continue to build off of my season so far.”

The absence of Wolves defenceman Jack Thompson from the Team OHL roster could be seen as a surprise, considering his excellent start to the season. The 17-year-old leads league defencemen in goal scoring, with six in 10 games, and is second only to Saginaw’s Ilya Solovyov with 12 points.

“You’re hoping everyone gets a look, but I think getting one out of the two is great,” Stillman said. “Jack’s start to the year has been unbelievable, he has been making a name for himself and he’s doing that the right way — he’s jumping into plays, he’s scoring goals, he’s playing well defensively, and if he continues to do that, his stock is just going to continue to rise.”

Players such as Byfield and Thompson have set fine examples for rookies McCallum and Stillman, players who are still adjusting to the league, but have made some strides already.

“They both have played well,” coach Stillman said. “It’s a big learning curve for them. You leave your minor hockey team being in the top three on your team — in some cases, like Landon, you’re the top player when you’re a first-round pick — then you get to junior and we have a first-round pick from the year before, the year before and the year before, and you’ve got to earn your ice time, you have to learn a new system, and you have to understand the commitment you have to make of going to school every day,  coming to practice, and being ready to play, sometimes three games in three nights.”

Sudbury Wolves forward Landon McCallum (9) lays a hit on Oshawa Generals defenceman Nico Gross (66) during first-period OHL action at Sudbury Community Arena in Sudbury, Ontario on Friday, October 11, 2019. Ben Leeson/The Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

Sudbury’s bench boss also complimented Ethan Larmand, another forward, for his efforts as a 16-year-old OHLer.

“Young guys have their work cut out for them on every team, but our young guys, when they get an opportunity to play, they have been really good.”

Chase Stillman called the Team Canada nod “awesome, a huge honour.”

“It’s pretty much everything you work for in this sport, as chance to be part of this program,” he beamed. “It’s really exciting for me.”

He has done his part to excite Sudbury fans, certainly, scoring five times already this season, while adding a trio of assists over 10 games.

Though a swift skater himself, getting used to the OHL’s speed has been an adjustment.

“Skating the puck through the neutral zone, crossing over in the offensive zone, I feel like the D here close a lot faster and there’s so much less time and space,” he said. “But I feel that as I have played a couple more games, I have started to get used to it.”

The same goes for McCallum, even if he got a late start by missing most of pre-season due to an injury suffered in training. He has two assists in nine games.

“It took me a while to get used to the systems and stuff, but I feel a lot more confident now, for sure, with the puck and without it, too,” said McCallum, who gave Wolves coaches Stillman, Darryl Moxam and Zack Stortini credit for helping him adjust to the speed and size of major-junior players, as well as new, more complicated systems.

“They really help you ease your way into that and develop you into a good player in that sense.”

He admitted to being uncertain about his U17 status prior to Wednesday’s announcement, having missed Hockey Canada’s summer development camp due to his injury.

“I thought I should be able to make that team, so it’s nice to know that I did make it,” McCallum said.

He doesn’t intend to deviate from the gritty two-way playing style that helped him earn a spot.

“Obviously, they selected me for a reason, so I don’t want to change anything and jeopardize what they think of me,” McCallum said. “I’ll just keep playing how I have been.”

The Wolves return to regular-season action on Friday, hosting the Barrie Colts in a 7:05 p.m. start.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

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