Veterans remember

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

A dozen returnees, the most ever for a Canadian world junior team. A handful of players who'd be in the NHL, if it weren't for the lockout. One, Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins, who played there all of last season. And Sidney Crosby.

That's not a bad collection of talent assembled here for Team Canada's selection camp this week, including 14 first-round draft picks, another 11 chosen in the second or third rounds.

"I've heard people go so far as to say it's the best Team Canada ever put together for the World Juniors," Winnipeg's Cam Barker, a defenceman with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers, was saying as he arrived yesterday. "That kind of stays in your head."

Yes, it looks good on paper, doesn't it? Of course, that and $5.50 will get you a cup of beer at the new downtown rink, where head coach Brent Sutter put his 32 junior stars through the paces for the first time last night.

Gave away

From those, Sutter and his assistants will choose the best 22, take them down to Grand Forks for Christmas and try to take back the gold medal the Yanks stole from them last year.

Or the gold medal they gave away.

You see, for the 12 players back for a second crack at this thing, the pain of blowing a 3-1, third-period lead on the last day of the tournament has only been numbed by the ensuing 12 months.

Not far below the surface, it lingers, like raw flesh, needing only a light touch to bring it back.

"It's behind us now," Winnipegger Nigel Dawes, one of the Determined Dozen, said, at first.

In his next breath, the truth emerged.

"It's definitely a motivation factor. There's a lot of scores to settle. We let ourselves down. Canada hasn't won gold for a long time. I can't think of a better group of guys than the guys we have here."

Neither can anybody else.

Factors like the lockout and the unusually deep pool of 19-year-olds have this team dripping with expectations.

The fact last year's team came so close with a bunch of players who were 18 only adds to it.

"We had a chance," said Dawes, who led that team with six goals. "And the best part about it is that we have so many guys that possibly have a chance of doing it again this year."

You can bet Sutter will be leaning particularly hard on them.

People like Dion Phaneuf, the hard-hitting defenceman who plays for Sutter in Red Deer of the WHL.

"We've got to show a lot of leadership," Phaneuf said. "You try and share your knowledge of what happened last year. Coming that close is one of the toughest things to swallow. It stung a lot. We know there's a job to be done this year."

People like Regina's Ryan Getzlaf, the 6-foot-3 forward for the Calgary Hitmen.

"Obviously we're going to take that and use it a little bit as incentive," Getzlaf said. "I'm going to go that much harder. That was one of the hardest things last year, to lose that game. You don't want to be in that situation again."

Of course, if you obsess over it, you could be in even worse trouble.

"If you're worried about the Americans or gold, you lose the first game and then you might be out of medal contention," Scarborough product Anthony Stewart (Kingston, OHL) said.

Fat chance of that.

Not with this team.

"We have enough experience and leadership in this group of guys, that I know we know what it takes," Dawes said. "There's a lot of champions, great players, guys who've won the Memorial Cup, guys with international experience -- the list goes on and on."

The best Canadian junior team ever?

"You can say that -- that's great," Sutter said. "But are they going to be saying that if we fall flat on our faces?"

No, they won't.

Heck, they might not let them back in the country.


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