Boys on the bubble

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter said it earlier this week: the only way for players to make his world junior team is to be themselves. The artists have to create, the snipers have to snipe and the plumbers have to plumb.

Manitoba was looking to provide a little bit of everything to the work force for the '05 World Junior Hockey Championship, beginning Christmas Day down in Grand Forks, N.D.

You had players like Nigel Dawes and Eric Fehr, who've painted some fancy offensive numbers in the Western League over the years.

There's defenceman Cam Barker, who complements his nice size with an offensive flair, defensive forward Dustin Boyd -- even a goaltender, in Reg Beauchemin.

Just how much of a local flavour Team Canada will have we'll find out today, when Sutter will trim his roster from 32 to around 22.

So where do the 'Tobans stand, entering Decision Day?

Let's just say the only one who wasn't tossing and turning last night was probably Dawes.

The 5-foot-8 Winnipegger, one of 12 players returning from last year's team, was among several who didn't dress for last night's final game against the U of M Bisons.

That's a very good sign.

"There's nine guys not playing," Sutter said yesterday. "That tells you something."

It tells us the coaches had seen enough. They are definitely not the Nervous Nine.

Not that all those who played last night are in trouble.

But it's obvious this was a critical 60 minutes of hockey for many, Fehr, Boyd, Barker and Beauchemin included.

"One last chance to leave an impression on the coaches," Fehr called it, knowing full well what he had to do to make that impression.

With 29 goals in 30 games as a member of the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings, Fehr was junior hockey's top sniper coming in. But he came up empty in all three games this week, probably the first time that's happened all season.

"It's a little tough for me to swallow," Fehr said last night.

It's not like Sutter was trying to transform him into a third-line checker, either.

Fehr's linemates this week included Dawes and Michael Richards one game, Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron in another.

Good opportunity

"They've been putting me with some key players, some players who are probably going to be on this team," Fehr said. "I've had a good opportunity. I think they expect a lot out of me here. Being my second year at camp and having some success in the Western League, they expect me to come here and score some goals ... hopefully, they give me a chance to do that in the tournament."

Boyd, who's going to have to make this team as a grinder, chipped in a goal last night.

"Hopefully, I played a good enough game to make it tough on him," he said.

Over on defence, Barker wasn't sure what to think.

"I thought I left it all out there," he said. "It's hard to stand out in a group like this."

And in goal, Beauchemin capped a solid week by making some eye-popping saves again last night, facing a 19-shot Team Canada barrage and giving up three goals in a period and a half.

Of the three criteria the coaches are using -- the summer camp, the season-to-date, and this week -- Beauchemin must be thinking two-out-of-three ain't bad.

"He actually has had a pretty good camp," Sutter said, perhaps sounding just a touch surprised. "He's struggled a little bit in Prince Albert, but had a good summer camp and played well here, too."

So they've all made their pitch.

This morning, they'll meet for a team breakfast, where their dreams will either be scrambled, or served sunny-side up.

"I have no idea," Fehr said of his chances. "I can only imagine what they're thinking right now."


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