Junior team a tough roster to crack

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

You now know the names. Let the speculation begin.

Hockey Canada announced yesterday the names of the 32-players invited to Canada's world junior hockey team selection camp in Winnipeg. The London Knights have three invitees, forwards Corey Perry and David Bolland and defenceman Danny Syvret.

The Knights also apparently will see Rob Schremp be selected to the American junior team by USA Hockey.

In what might be one of the most difficult Canadian rosters to crack in recent memory, 21 players from the Western Hockey League were invited along with seven from the Ontario Hockey League, three from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Patrice Bergeron, who is playing with the Boston Bruins' American Hockey League affiliate.

The roster will be made up of 22 players. The 12 returning players from last year's silver-medal winning team includes Londoner Jeff Carter, who plays for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Those players are given an edge to make the team.

That doesn't leave a lot of spots left, especially with the heavy emphasis being placed on WHL players. Even when one considers that over the last three or four years the WHL has had the most players invited, 21 of 32 is a startling number. Brent Sutter of the Red Deer Rebels is the head coach of the team.

That said, the WHL is considered the strongest league of the three this year.

The Knights are ripping apart the OHL with their 28-game undefeated streak and no matter how good they are as a team, and they are very good, that type of run is facilitated by the calibre of some opponents.

"I can't comment because I don't know the Western league," said Dale Hunter, coach of the Knights. "But I know that the (1985) draft was one of the best ever in Ontario. There are a lot of good players from that draft."

So where do the Knights fit in?

Everyone loves Syvret. Hockey people love the way he plays the game, his ability to move the puck and his mobility. They also love his attitude on the ice and off it. Chemistry is going to be a big part of how well this team does and Syvret will fit in anywhere, any time.

The team on the blue-line will have plenty of size and ability to hit.

Syvret is going to get a long look.

Perry came close to making last year's team. And if there was a problem the team had last year it was scoring goals.

Perry needs a strong camp.

With Sidney Crosby, Carter, Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards et all, Canada has offensive ability. But if Perry has a strong camp, he has to be selected. There aren't enough reasons to keep him off the team. He may not be the strongest guy yet but you can't win without scoring and Perry is slick.

Bolland is intriguing. He's strong, tough and can shoot the puck. He's also only 18, which means he's eligible for the team next year. The national team likes to have players on the team with previous international experience.

Sitting in the coach's office is Dale Hunter. Schremp is gone. It's a long shot that he'll lose all three of his other players but Hunter's hoping . . . hoping they all make it, that is.

"It's good for the players," he said. "It's the pressure. It's like playing in a Memorial Cup or a Stanley Cup final. Guys like Perry, Syvret, Bolland, Schremp, they were home watching these guys last year, so they know everyone will be home watching them. You learn to handle the pressure.

"I like these type of things like the world junior or the OHL select games because you learn to handle the pressure."

And whether they make it or not, Hunter likes the selection camp because that too adds to the experience.

Syvret puts the dream of playing in the world junior into words.

"I'm just the typical Canadian kid. We all want to play in the world junior," he said. "We sit and watch TSN and look up to them. You hear that you are being considered (for the selection camp) but when it's actually set in stone, it's pretty exciting."

Any Knight making either national team will miss six games.

"We're deep," said Syvret. "There isn't a team in this league which wouldn't take our D corp, minus me. Marc (Methot) will play more, Jeff (Whitfield) will take on a leadership role. We're pretty strong."

CANADA'S JUNIORS

A look at the 32 players at Canada's national junior team selection camp, which begins Sunday in Winnipeg:

Average age: 19 years, four months, 27 days (as of Dec. 24)

Average size: Six-foot-one, 202 pounds

Leadership: 11 players captain their teams, another 14 are alternates.

NHL draft: 14 are NHL first-round draft picks, six are second-round picks, and five were selected in the third round.

Junior roots: 21 from WHL, seven from OHL, three from QMJHL. The other is from the NHL.

Veterans: 12 played in the last world junior championship.


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