Junior judgement day

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

The waiting is over.

Some time this morning, 28 to 30 Canadian teenagers will see their dreams of playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship kept alive.

Dozens of others will be heartbroken, even though they're probably good enough to have made the grade.

That's what happens when the field of 18- and 19-year-olds is as deep as it is this year -- and when there's no NHL season underway to prevent several of them from playing for their country.

Hockey Canada officials today unveil the invitation list for Team Canada's final selection camp, to be held in Winnipeg, Dec. 12-16.

It's the most coveted invitation in junior hockey, and Winnipegger Nigel Dawes is virtually certain to receive one.

Dawes was one of Canada's top forwards at last year's World Junior Championship in Helsinki, one of 13 players eligible to return.

A dynamic, but small (5-foot-8, 180 pounds) forward for the Western Hockey League's Kootenay Ice, he's expected to be one of the leaders on a team bent on avenging last year's loss to the U.S. in the gold-medal game.

"I'd like to think that, but I can't take that for granted," Dawes told The Sun. "Even the guys who are pretty much assured spots on the team, you don't want to go in there and take it easy. You want to prepare yourself for the tournament."

Five other Manitobans are in less-solid positions than Dawes: forwards Eric Fehr of the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings and Dustin Boyd of the Moose Jaw Warriors, defenceman Cam Barker of the Medicine Hat Tigers, goalie Rejean Beauchemin of Prince Albert and University of North Dakota freshman Travis Zajac.

Chances are one or two will be invited, at best.

Also sitting on pins and needles this morning will be Ryan Stone, a Calgary product who plays with Fehr in Brandon.

Just 22 players will earn spots on Team Canada, which plays the first game of the tournament Christmas Day against Slovakia, at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.

To prepare, Canada will face the University of Manitoba Bisons at the MTS Centre, Dec. 14 and 15. Tickets are also on sale for pre-tournament games between Canada and Finland (Dec. 20), Finland-Switzerland (Dec. 21) and Canada-Switzerland (Dec. 22), all at the new downtown arena.

Dawes expects to have dozens of family and friends in attendance, here and in Grand Forks.

"I'm really looking forward to it," the Winnipegger said. "When I was young I watched the World Juniors in '99 when I was in Winnipeg. It's just a great event, especially being in Canada ... to have at least part of it at home, I couldn't ask for much more."

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WHO WILL MAKE THE GRADE?

Manitobans hoping for Team Canada tryout:

- D Cam Barker, Winnipeg (Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL)

- G Rejean Beauchemin, Winnipeg (Prince Albert Raiders, WHL)

- F Dustin Boyd, Winnipeg (Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL)

- F Nigel Dawes, Winnipeg (Kootenay Ice, WHL)

- F Eric Fehr, Winkler (Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL)

- F Travis Zajak, Winnipeg (University of North Dakota)


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