T-Birds take on Canadian juniors

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

Milan Dragicevic is returning to an old haunt tonight.

He'll coach his University of British Columbia Thunderbirds at the Pacific Coliseum in an exhibition game against Canada's World Junior Championship hopefuls.

Dragicevic had the historic, but unenviable, task as the Vancouver Giants' first head coach in 2001-2002. The team won 13 games and lost 48 in its inaugural Western Hockey League season.

T-Birds are 5-10-1 after the first half of their injury-marred Canada West hockey season. They resume regular season play with games Jan. 6 and 7 against the University of Manitoba Bisons.

"We think that this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase university hockey and to showcase our players," said Dragicevic, who is in his fourth season coaching at Point Grey. "People don't realize how competitive university hockey is."

UBC's roster counts right winger Nick Marach, the Giants' original captain. T-Birds will face a young-and-hungry maple leaf squad whose players will use the opportunity to impress head coach Brent Sutter one last time. Canada's roster will be cut to 22 after the game.

UBC, meanwhile, hosts Slovakia's national junior team Friday night in Coquitlam. Slovak prospects include forwards Igor Bacek and Juraj Gracik from the Tri-City Americans and Ladislav Scurko and Roman Tomanek of Seattle Thunderbirds.

"These games are going to be intense," Dragicevic said.

The climax of Team Canada's five-day tryout camp at the Rink on Renfrew goes at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $15 plus tax and service charge. Canada's pre-tournament camp begins Saturday in Chase with exhibitions on Tuesday in Kelowna against Czech Republic and Dec. 20 in Kamloops against Russia.

The team returns to the Coliseum on Boxing Day to begin the 2006 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which concludes Jan. 5, 2006 at General Motors Place.


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