Knights set for national teams

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

There will be London Knights playing in the world junior hockey championships in Sweden at the end of this month.

But will any of those Knights be Canadian?

Sergei Kostitsyn is a shoo-in to skate as the star of Belarus and you'd have to wonder what in Rob Schremp's name the United States is thinking if it doesn't include Pat Kane on its team.

The Canadian team is expected to release its training camp invite list on Monday -- less than 24 hours after hopefuls Sam Gagner and goalie Steve Mason play for the Knights in Sault Ste. Marie against the Greyhounds, which are coached by national junior team head coach Craig Hartsburg.

"If I'm invited, that would be great because it's a dream all of us have," Gagner said. "I wouldn't say I'm nervous about it. I'm not really expecting anything right now. I know I'm a younger player, but I'd love to be able to go. It would be a wonderful experience."

Gagner presents a unique situation for Hartsburg because he's only 17 but still the OHL's leading scorer and a projected first-round NHL draft pick. If the coach doesn't include him because of inexperience and the Canadians go on to lose a key tournament game by one goal, it will be argued Gagner's offensive skill could have made the difference.

Gagner played in both ends of the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge Series in Sarnia and Oshawa, although Hartsburg feels it didn't allow enough time to get to know a player's character and personality.

"It's really only one or two games and you basically go in and play it and get out (to go back to the OHL schedule)," Hartsburg said.

"That's the first time I got to see Sam because our team hasn't played against the Knights yet," Hartsburg said. "And Steve, he basically only played a period against us last year. They're younger players but their numbers speak for themselves."

As a member of Team OHL, Gagner tried to show he is an effective player at both ends of the ice and didn't resort to the razzle-dazzle he displays in regular-season games.

"I tried to play a simple game and be defensively responsible," Gagner said. "I didn't go in too worried about having to make an impression. I just went to work hard and hopefully, I was able to catch somebody's eye."

Unlike his siblings, Sam Gagner doesn't have dual citizenship, so skipping Canada and playing for the U.S. isn't an option. He wouldn't have it any other way, and Knights assistant coach Todd Bidner thinks the Gagner has earned at least an invitation to camp.

"Just by being the leading scorer in the league, he should go," Bidner said. "Sam's like a sponge. If he got to play for Canada, he would take it all in and learn from it and come back a better player. He wouldn't be a whiner if he only got five minutes of ice time a game. Just getting to go to camp -- to take part in that kind of experience --that would be good for the Canadian team and the London Knights."

This isn't going to be an easy Canadian roster to crack. Half of last year's gold-medal-winning team is eligible to return and there is a handful of quality goalies from the West and Quebec looking to guard the Canadian crease.

"I still think Steve's underrated," Gagner said of the Knights' starting goalie. "He's our team MVP to date. Some of the things he is able to do and the saves he has made have allowed us to win games or at least get to shootouts and win them there."

They may be young, but Gagner and Mason claim they certainly aren't tired. After playing five games in six days, Gagner had time to recover and will be back at it with the first of three games in three nights against the Owen Sound Attack tonight at the John Labatt Centre.

"I love to play games so I was excited to get the chance to play a lot," Gagner said. "I was feeling tired the past few days but I'm better now and I'm ready to go."

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: London vs. Owen Sound, 7:30, John Labatt Centre

Tomorrow: London at Saginaw, 7:11 p.m.

Sunday: London at Sault Ste. Marie, 7 p.m.


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