Juniors ready to reload

SCOTT FISHER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

SASKATOON -- The hunt for six was deep-sixed.

The run for one begins in Buffalo 360 days from now.

Team Canada ultimately fell one goal shy of its quest for immortality.

But the remarkable run had been on life support more than once.

Luckily for Canada, it was Jordan Eberle who was holding the paddles.

Eberle's heroics in last year's semifinal against Russia put Canada in a position to win its fifth straight world junior gold medal.

And the man with the Midas touch nearly did it again in Saskatoon.

The Edmonton Oilers prospect will go down as the greatest junior hockey player to ever pull on the Maple Leaf.

Sure, he finished his world junior career five points behind Eric Lindros, but there's little doubt who left a bigger impression on Canadian fans. Scoring twice in the dying minutes to tie the U.S. in the gold-medal game only added to Eberle's Mr. Clutch reputation.

But Canada eventually ran out of miracles. And the Canucks won't have Eberle next year when they attempt to return the favour by ruining the American's party on their home turf.

Thanks to the gold-medal loss, they'll have a much tougher road in Buffalo where they'll be grouped with Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic. Had they won, they would have seen Switzerland, Slovakia and Finland.

The cupboards aren't exactly bare, however.

Projected first-overall NHL draft pick Taylor Hall proved he's a primetime player.

Assuming he doesn't jump to The Show immediately, Hall will be the new go-to guy for Canada.

Brayden Schenn, disappointed not to win gold in his hometown of Saskatoon, is also eligible to return up front. Schenn will play in this spring's Memorial Cup with the host Brandon Wheat Kings.

Major-junior hockey's final four provided the stage for Hall's coming-out party last year as the youngster was named MVP of the tournament. If Schenn follows suit and takes the next step forward, Canada will have a pair of big-time threats.

From there, there will be new faces up front.

Both goaltenders -- Jake Allen and Martin Jones -- will be gone, too. But a trio of defenders -- Ryan Ellis, Jared Cowen and Calvin de Haan -- are eligible to return.

Still, Canada's biggest issue is it has become a victim of its own success.

There are a half-dozen stars playing in the NHL who would have made a major impact at this year's event.

Imagine a roster that included John Tavares, Tyler Myers, Evander Kane and Matt Duchene, the latter who is still eligible for next year's tourney.

Would the streak still be alive? You'd have to think so.

But in addition to placing its young players in the NHL, Canada has provided other countries with the blueprint for success.

American coach Dean Blais admitted as much moments after claiming gold.

"We played Canadian hockey," Blais said. "We played gritty, we blocked shots, we back-checked hard. And we had a tryout camp.

"We learned from the best. It's not an accident you guys have won five straight gold medals. And it's not an accident you put guys in the National Hockey League."

And it won't be an accident if Canada exacts some revenge next January.

SCOTT.FISHER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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