Who says Manitoba doesn't produce good hockey players anymore?
This past summer, we saw two Winnipeggers get plucked in the first round of the NHL draft, one of them (defenceman Cam Barker) the first North American taken, third overall.
Yesterday, our provincial inferiority complex took another hit, as five of the six Manitobans being considered for Team Canada's world junior selection camp were actually selected.
It's the second straight year five Keystoners received the most coveted invitation in junior hockey. Only Alberta (nine) and Ontario (seven) have more players on the roster.
"It's good to see," forward Nigel Dawes of Winnipeg, one of a dozen returning Team Canada players, told The Sun yesterday. "There's not always a lot of talk about Hockey Manitoba and how we develop our players. I mean, you always hear about the hockey in Alberta and Ontario and so on, so it's good to see we have more than one or two guys representing our district."
It could have been six 'Tobans vying for a trip to the '05 world junior, if forward Travis Zajac had gone west like the rest of these young men, rather than combine pucks and books down at the University of North Dakota.
OK, so we don't know that for sure.
But Zajac, our other first-round draft pick this year, appears to be the victim of a major junior bent, one leaning drastically to the Western Hockey League.
Of the 32 players invited to the selection camp, no less than 21 ride buses in "The Dub," and for the first time since '97 there's not a single player from the U.S. college ranks.
"We did look at a couple of players," Blair Mackasey, Hockey Canada's head scout, said during a conference call yesterday. "He (Zajac) is off to a good start at North Dakota. But ... with the amount of depth we have with the players returning, especially the depth we have at centre, he just wasn't in the picture this year."
By now you've heard how stacked this team promises to be.
The dozen returning players is an all-time high, thanks to the NHL lockout. Toss in a 19-year-old NHLer (Boston's Patrice Bergeron), and you've got as few as nine of the 22 final roster spots up for grabs.
Dawes, one of Canada's top players last year, is the only Manitoban with a leg up on the competition.
The other four -- Barker, goaltender Rejean Beauchemin and forwards Dustin Boyd and Eric Fehr of Winkler -- have four days, Dec. 12-16, to make an impression that could last a lifetime.
"It's just an honour," Beauchemin said from Prince Albert, where he blocks shots for the WHL's Raiders. "I knew I had a good summer camp, but nothing's for sure. I'm sure it helped."
The Philadelphia draft pick is one of four WHL goalies vying for two spots.
Trying desperately to beat Beauchemin in scrimmages will be Fehr, the WHL's leading goal scorer who's taking aim at Team Canada for the second straight year.
"I think I made it to the first cut," Fehr, a member of the Brandon Wheat Kings, said, recalling last year's camp. "Even though I'm a year older and a year stronger, this team's going to be harder to make than last year."
Fehr can always draw from his days playing minor hockey in Winkler, where his Flyers would go head-to-head with a city kid named Dawes, playing for Dakota.
"He'd score three, I'd score two. He'd score four, I'd score four -- that kind of stuff," Fehr said.
That would probably work just fine next week.
As long as they're not all against Beauchemin, we could have quite a Manitoba contingent heading down to Grand Forks for Christmas.
JUST THE FACTS
A quick look at the 32-player roster for Canada's national junior team selection camp, which begins here Sunday:
- Average Age: 19 years four months 27 days (as of Dec. 24).
- Average Size: 6-foot-1, 202 pounds.
- Leadership: 11 players currently 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 last world junior championships.
- Rejean Beauchemin, G, Prince Albert Raiders
- Cam Barker, D, Medicine Hat Tigers
- Dustin Boyd, F, Moose Jaw Warriors
- Nigel Dawes, F, Kootenay Ice
- Eric Fehr, F, Brandon Wheat Kings
- Wheat Kings F Ryan Stone, of Calgary
-- Hockey Canada