Rourke Chartier and Nick Merkley both made the transatlantic trip to Finland this week with Canada’s national junior team.
The trick now for the Kelowna Rockets’ duo is to avoid a return flight home before Christmas.
Chartier and Merkley both survived the first round of cuts on Sunday, as four players were released following the national team selection camp in Etobicoke, Ont.
Twenty-seven players remain on the Canadian roster, with five more deletions to come before the start of the World Junior Hockey Championship on Boxing Day in Helsinki.
Canada’s depth at forward was bolstered this week with the addition of Jake Virtanen from the Vancouver Canucks, and Moose Jaw’s Brayden Point, who was pronounced fit and ready to go following a shoulder injury.
Whether the coaching staff decides there is still enough room for both Chartier and Merkley will be borne out over the next week as Canada plays three exhibition games.
“I think Chartier has probably got a pretty good chance of making it, he went through the camp last year, he’s an older forward (19) and knows what’s expected,” said Rockets GM Hamilton, who was part of the management team for Canada’s gold medal winning effort last year in Toronto and Montreal.
“Merkley is a year younger, so he’s probably going to have to do some things in the exhibition games to show he can be a key part of it. Any time they add someone like that (Virtanen) it pushes other guys down the list.”
Chartier and Merkley are among four Rockets forwards who are currently in Europe.
Tomas Soustal is auditioning for the Czech national junior team, while Calvin Thurkauf is with Team Switzerland.
As much as Hamilton wishes the four players the best of luck, losing all of them until Jan. 8 would be a strain on his team’s roster back at home.
“Losing two guys is one thing, but you lose four players, almost a quarter of your team, and it would be a tough pill to swallow,” Hamilton said. “But that’s the reality, it’s a good opportunity for all of those guys if they make it.
“And it’s the old story that back here, it’s a chance for other guys to get some games in and play more important roles than they’re used to.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets continue their pre-Christmas eastern road swing tonight in Swift Current gainst the Broncos. Kelowna will be in Moose Jaw Wednesday and Prince Albert Friday, before wrapping up the six-game tour on Saturday night in Saskatoon against the Blades…The Rockets next home action is Monday, Dec. 28 against the Kamloops Blazers.