GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Canada faces the distinct possibility of having no returnees, but that doesn't mean they won't compete for a gold medal at the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver.
With 20 of the 22 roster spots occupied by players with 1985 birthdays this year in Grand Forks, only Sidney Crosby (1987) and Cam Barker (1986) are age eligible but both could be in the NHL if the lockout is over.
Crosby is the consensus No. 1 pick whenever the next draft is held and Barker was chosen third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2004 NHL entry draft, so their availability is up in the air.
"If there is NHL hockey, we have to go under the assumption that there will be no returning players," said Blair Mackasey, head scout for Hockey Canada. "We're not here to rebuild, we just reload and every year we come to this tournament, we come to win. One of the great things we can count on in Canada is our depth."
Last year, Canada had 12 18-year-olds on the roster and that club fell one period short of capturing a gold medal in Finland. This year, Canada had a record 12 returning players on the roster and added Patrice Bergeron, who spent all of last season with the Boston Bruins.
Mackasey expects the 2006 squad to be smaller and faster than the 2004 and 2005 editions.
"It's going to be similar to last year (2004 team), where you have a nucleus of 19-year-olds but you'll have an influx of 18-year-olds," said Mackasey. "We'll be a better team than people see right now. This team will be competitive regardless. You like to have experience and you like to have some returning players, but it's not something that concerns me."
In almost any other year, late cuts David Bolland of the London Knights, Dustin Boyd of the Moose Jaw Warriors and Mike Green of the Saskatoon Blades would have made the team.
The good news for those players is that they may have a chance to be part of the leadership core in 2006.
"When they do come back next year, this isn't going to be a big mystery to them," said Mackasey. "They know what this program is about and it's just a matter of stepping up. Everybody obviously wants to play for Canada, so this is their last shot at it. It will be a source of motivation for them."
With Jeff Glass and Rejean Beauchemin moving on, the goaltending situation is wide open. Devan Dubnyk of the Kamloops Blazers, Carey Price of the Tri-City Americans and David Shantz of the Mississauga Ice Dogs are the top candidates.