ST. CATHARINES, ONT. — Robby Fabbri felt as if he’d won the lottery.
“You could say that,” said Fabbri.
Why? Not only was phenom centre Connor McDavid cleared for full contact on Monday — for the first time since suffering a broken hand in a fight on Nov. 11 — but Fabbri and Nic Petan would be his wingers at Team Canada’s world junior camp.
“He’s the kind of player who can make any player good,” said Fabbri, a Blues prospect from the Guelph Storm. “We just feed off each other. We kind of know where each other is going to be.”
The Fabbri and McDavid families are friends — the sons playing with and against each other since McDavid was 7 and Fabbri was 8. They’re reunited for now at Team Canada’s selection camp, which has moved to the Meridian Centre — home of the Niagara Ice Dogs — for the week.
“I’ve played with Fabbri since I was a little guy. I love playing with him,” said McDavid. “And Petan is an unbelievable player. Putting those two together, hopefully we’ll have some success and we’re able to find some chemistry this week. We’ll see what happens.”
When McDavid emerged from the Team Canada room in a white sweater, rather than a yellow one signifying non-contact, it was game on. The can’t-miss prospect from the Erie Otters instantly became the focus.
“It felt pretty good,” McDavid said of his right hand, hurt in a bout with Mississauga’s Bryson Cianfrone. “My last checkup was a couple of Tuesdays ago. That’s kind of been the plan from day one, to start contact on this date. It kind of all fell into place.”
McDavid jostled with teammates, exchanging slashes with goalie Zach Fucale in jest. Defenceman Shea Theodore knocked McDavid over and meant it while battling in the slot.
“I’ve been bag skating for almost three weeks,” said McDavid. “My legs feel great. The legs aren’t too much of an issue at all. Getting the hands back is coming along, getting a little better.
“The only thing that has to come is timing. The only way to do that is through competition and through contact and all that. That’s going to take a little time to get back.”
The only guy who might have been happier than Fabbri and McDavid was Team Canada coach Benoit Groulx.
“You can’t go in a tournament without your key players,” said Groulx. “It is a big boost for confidence. It is a big boost for not only your five-on-five game, but also for your specialty teams. It is always nice to have one of your top guys being healthy and feeling confident.
“This is what I look at when they are on the ice: How did they feel? Do they look confident on the ice when they skate? Do they have poise with the puck? Do they seem to have chemistry out there? When you look at Connor today, I thought he had all that and it is good to see that.”
It’s too soon to say when McDavid will play in a game. Canada plays an exhibition against Russia on Friday at the Air Canada Centre, but the target date for McDavid’s return had been Monday against Sweden in Ottawa.
The McDavid unit looks to be the second line behind Max Domi with Sam Reinhart and Anthony Duclair. Fabbri says he doesn’t want to blow the chance to pile up points as McDavid’s winger.
“(The coaches) started by showing some confidence in me. I have to back that up and prove to them they made a good choice,” said Fabbri.
Also Monday, the Vancouver Canucks sent word that they will be keeping 19-year-old Bo Horvat instead of lending him to Team Canada. Forward Michael Dal Colle, who missed Sunday’s game, and defenceman Joe Hicketts, who left in the first period, practised in full on Monday, when players, coaches and training staff were also vaccinated against mumps amid an outbreak of the virus in the NHL.