Future stars headed for London

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

Joe Sakic, Jerome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Mats Sundin, Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny, Roberto Luongo, Daniel Briere, Vincent Lecavalier, Patrick Marleau, and on and on the list goes.

It's not a list of National Hockey League all-stars, but it could well be.

It's just a partial list of star players who have participated in what is now the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

Local fans will get a chance to see these potential superstars -- before they become superstars -- as London has been chosen the main venue for the 2008 tournament.

Hockey Canada has awarded the event to London over bids from British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick. It will feature five teams from Canada and five from the rest of the world. The tournament will begin on Dec. 29, 2007, with the championship game on Jan. 4, 2008.

"This is the bridge they cross over between minor hockey and junior hockey," said Joe O'Neill, chairperson of the local bid committee.

"Forty per cent of the players from this tournament will play in the NHL. A big chunk of players from Canada will play and virtually everyone from Europe and the U.S.

"The U.S. only has one team in this tournament and it's formed from their elite camp in Ann Arbor. As we know, they all seem to get drafted. This is the first stage in Hockey Canada's program of excellence, which leads to the under-20 team (Canada's national junior team)."

Also on the bid committee were Tourism London with minor hockey association representatives from Lucan, Strathroy, Stratford, Woodstock and St. Thomas.

Fourteen of the 27 games will be played in London at the John Labatt Centre.

The other 13 games will be played in those smaller communities.

" Each community has a day where two games are scheduled and they can celebrate a day with those teams, do the events they want to do and rally around their minor hockey community," O'Neill said.

The five teams from Canada are Team Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Team West (Manitoba, Saskatchewan) and Team Pacific (Alberta, British Columbia). The United States, the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden usually participate, while Germany was the fifth international team in this year's event.

The Ontario team included local players Logan Couture of the Ottawa 67's, Drew Doughty of the Guelph Storm and Corey Syvret of the London Knights. Angelo Esposito, playing with the Quebec Remparts in the Memorial Cup, was with Quebec.

The U.S. featured Phil McRae, drafted 20th by the Knights in this years OHL draft. He played as an underager, as did Ontario's and Oshawa Generals' John Tavares.

"They are the 16-year-olds who will be playing in the OHL. Corey Syvret is a prime example of that," O'Neill said.

"Jacques Beaulieu (former Knights assistant) was one of the (Ontario) coaches.

"It's really important to see a kid like Syvret playing against players in his elite-age group, players his own age, rather than being on the ice against a 20-year-old.

"As a result, they're able to demonstrate their skills to their maximum level. (Beaulieu) said the skill level of these kids was incredible to watch."

O'Neill said the tournament comes at a good time.

"The timing is such that over Christmas there's not a lot of tourism, the hotels are empty, it gives them a bit of an economic boost," he said.

"This city is hockey-crazy anyway and when you put an excellent product on the ice -- and believe me, this is an excellent product for the fans to watch -- with a whole bunch of kids in a Canada uniform whose names will eventually be household names, I think that will be a terrific attraction for the average hockey fan in this town."

With all this young talent on display, the tournament attracts scouts by the bushelful.

Whatever money is made by the tournament will stay in the communities and go toward minor hockey development.


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