Last chance to shine

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

Officially, they are exhibition games. A team of Western Hockey League all-stars taking on a team of Russian juniors, tonight in Red Deer and tomorrow in Lethbridge.

The final score won't mean a lick, as far as standings go. Goals and assists, they'll be worth no more than the scoresheet they're written on.

There are a few players, though, whose dreams could hinge on what happens these next two nights. At least, if their dreams include playing for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship.

And whose don't, at this level?

What they'll be trying to do is force somebody at Hockey Canada to invite them to the final tryout camp for the world junior team, here in Winnipeg, beginning Dec. 12.

SHORT GUEST LIST

The guest list will be short, 28, maybe 30, names in all. Just 22 of those will don the Maple Leaf, shoulder the country's gold-medal hopes and hit Interstate 29 to Grand Forks and Thief River Falls for a date with history.

But time is running short to get on that list -- invitations go out next Monday.

So for anybody on the bubble, this two-game set is one, last chance.

"For most of them, it probably means very little," Hockey Canada head scout Blair Mackasey told The Sun. "But for certain other players ... it will confirm or deny some things for us. For a couple of players, it will be very important."

Winkler's Eric Fehr, for one, isn't taking anything for granted.

The 6-foot-3 scoring machine from the Brandon Wheat Kings may lead the WHL in goals, with 22, but he doesn't sound like someone who's got a spot locked up.

"I don't really know where I stand with those guys," Fehr said, before catching a flight to Alberta last night. "You don't really talk to them at all during the season. You've just got to play your own game, and can't worry about what kind of decisions they're making.

"These two games are really important ... to show the coaching staff you're there to do whatever it'll take to make the team."

What else can Fehr do, you may be wondering, than lead the league in goals?

You might be surprised to hear the 19-year-old admit he hasn't always shown up this season.

"I'm playing a little bit inconsistent, and that might end up costing me," he said. "I've got to work a little bit harder. Some games I kind of take the nights off, I guess, where I just rely on the power play a bit too much. I don't want to be known as a guy who can only score on the power play."

With a Sutter coaching Team Canada this year (Brent, Red Deer Rebels boss), all the fancy hockey in the world won't mean a thing if you're shy about going into the corners or in front of the net.

"This isn't an all-star team," Mackasey said. "It's not about leading goalscorers or leading goalies. It's just about bringing in the players that can give us the best chance of winning."

So expect a requisite number of grinders to compliment the big guns.

Winkler's big gun got his invitation last year, but didn't make the final roster. He knows another year of experience on its own doesn't mean a thing, though, not with 13 returnees from last year's team and all the NHL-calibre juniors available.

"This year, it's going to be a lot tougher," Fehr said. "But at least in the end, if you do end up making the team, you know you were truly among the top players in Canada, and it had nothing to do with players being away or anything."

A first-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals last year, Fehr is among five Manitobans on the WHL all-star team.

Returning Team Canada forward Nigel Dawes is the only one who can safely expect an invitation to the final camp.

The rest ...

"I wouldn't characterize it as expecting," Fehr said. "I'd characterize it more as hoping."


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