Sam Gagner and Steve Mason are flying to Calgary on Sunday -- definite proof the London Knights teammates are no longer flying under Hockey Canada's radar.
Gagner, a 17-year-old rookie who is leading the OHL in scoring, and Mason, a second-year goaltender who has rapidly positioned himself as one the country's best, will be heading to selection camp for a shot at cracking Canada's roster for the world junior championship in Sweden.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity and getting to go with Steve (a fellow Oakville native) is a plus because it provides you with a different perspective on the camp experience," Gagner said. "It's always more comfortable to go with someone you know. You don't go in with any of that awkwardness you feel when you don't know anybody."
Few calls-to-country would have been less expected six months ago. Gagner was cut from Canada's under-18 team this summer, while many were unsure if the 18-year-old Mason, a third-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, was up to the challenge of carrying the crease load for the Knights this season.
Both have roared to scintillating starts and are big reasons why London is again at the top of the Ontario Hockey League. Though they want to make the Canadian team this year, the two are eligible next year and, in Gagner's case, in 2009 as well.
"I've got my foot in the door with Team Canada and that's a nice feeling -- hopefully, we don't get lost at the (Calgary) airport," the six-foot-three Mason said with a grin. "It's gone pretty well this year and I haven't had what you'd call a horrible game yet this season. (In the Canada-Russia Challenge) I made a couple of third-period saves that gave our team a chance to win."
Londoner and Guelph Storm defenceman Drew Doughty, who turns 17 on Friday, is the youngest blue-liner invited to selection camp. The former London Junior Knight will head west with his Storm defensive partner Ryan Parent, a world junior gold medallist last year, and Strathroy's Patrick McNeill of the Saginaw Spirit.
Mason is the only OHL goalie in the camp and the only one of the four who plies his trade for a Canadian team. Carey Price, the lone 19-year-old vying for the Canadian crease, plays for the Western Hockey League's Tri-City Americans, Leland Irving suits up for the Everett Silvertips and Jonathan Bernier stops pucks for the Lewiston Maineics.
"That's kind of weird how it worked out," Mason said. "I've talked to Jonathan and Leland Irving before at NHL rookie camp. In these kind of camps, you just go and do the best you can. If I come back to London after a week and play the rest of the season, it's not as disappointing because we're on a roll and we haven't lost in regulation for some time. But if I get the chance to go to Sweden, it would be amazing."
Mason, who knows he has a one-in-two chance of making the roster, is trying to become the first Knights goalie on the team since Frank Caprice captured gold for Canada in 1982 in Minnesota.
Gagner, who is being projected as a first-round pick in the next NHL draft, hopes to continue a London tradition of providing quality forwards to the world junior program: David Bolland, Corey Perry, Rick Nash more recently, and Jason Allison and Brendan Shanahan in the past.
"I think coming to the OHL helped with this because I probably was under the radar a little bit," Gagner said. "It (the United States Hockey League) was a good league but people started noticing (his offensive skills) more with the good start we had."
Gagner and Mason expect to play all three of London's games this weekend before heading to Calgary. If they make the team, the probable return date to the Knights lineup would be Jan. 6.
SELECTION CAMP ROSTER
The roster for the selection camp for Canada's junior team. Camp is Dec. 10-15 in Calgary, listed with age, hometown, team and NHL rights (* on 2006 world junior team):
Jonathan Bernier, 18, Laval, Que., Lewiston (QMJHL), Los Angeles; Leland Irving, 18, Swan Hills, Alta., Everett (WHL), Calgary; Steve Mason, 18, Oakville, London (OHL), Columbus; Carey Price, 19, Anahim Lake, B.C., Tri-City (WHL), Montreal
Karl Alzner, 18, Burnaby, B.C., Calgary (WHL); *Luc Bourdon, 19, Shippagan, N.B., Moncton (QMJHL), Vancouver; Drew Doughty, 17, London, Guelph (OHL); Keaton Ellerby, 18, Calgary, Kamloops (WHL); Cody Franson, 19, Sicamous, B.C., Vancouver (WHL), Nashville; Dustin Kohn, 19, Edmonton, Brandon (WHL), N.Y. Islanders; *Kris Letang, 19, Ste-Julie, Que., Val d'Or (QMJHL), Pittsburgh; Patrick McNeill, 19, Strathroy, Saginaw (OHL), Washington; Brendan Mikkelson, 19, St. Albert, Alta., Vancouver (WHL), Anaheim; *Ryan Parent, 19, Sioux Lookout, Guelph (OHL), Nashville; *Kris Russell, 19, Caroline, Alta., Medicine Hat (WHL), Columbus; *Marc Staal, 19, Thunder Bay, Sudbury (OHL), N.Y. Rangers
Cody Bass, 19, Guelph, Ont., Mississauga (OHL), Ottawa; *Daniel Bertram, 19, Calgary, Boston College (NCAA), Chicago; Codey Burki, 19, Winnipeg, Brandon (WHL), Colorado; Marc-Andre Cliche, 19, Rouyn-Noranda, Que., Lewiston (QMJHL), N.Y. Rangers; *Andrew Cogliano, 19, Woodbridge, Michigan (NCAA), Edmonton; *Steve Downie, 19, Queensville, Peterborough (OHL), Philadelphia; Angelo Esposito, 17, Montreal, Quebec (QMJHL); Sam Gagner, 17, Oakville, London (OHL); Claude Giroux, 18, Hearst, Gatineau (QMJHL), Philadelphia; Darren Helm, 19, St. Andrews, Man., Medicine Hat (WHL), Detroit; Bryan Little, 19, Cambridge, Barrie (OHL), Atlanta; Brad Marchand, 18, Hammonds Plains, N.S., Val d'Or (QMJHL), Boston; Ben Maxwell, 18, North Vancouver, B.C., Kootenay (WHL), Montreal; Kenndal McArdle, 19, Burnaby, B.C., Vancouver (WHL), Florida; James Neal, 19, Whitby, Plymouth (OHL), Dallas; *Ryan O'Marra, 19, Mississauga, Saginaw (OHL), N.Y. Islanders; Mathieu Perreault, 18, Drummondville, Que., Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL), Washington; *Tom Pyatt, 19, Thunder Bay, Saginaw (OHL), N.Y. Rangers; Devin Setoguchi, 19, Taber, Alta., Prince George (WHL), San Jose; Chris Stewart, 19, Scarborough, Kingston (OHL), Colorado; John Tavares, 16, Oakville, Oshawa (OHL); *Jonathan Toews, 18, Winnipeg, North Dakota (NCAA), Chicago
Invited: Four goalies, 12 defencemen, 22 forwards
Breakdown: OHL 14, WHL 13, QMJHL eight, U.S. colleges three
Average height: Six foot
Average weight: 193 pounds
Average age: 19 years, one month, three days
Most NHL draft picks: New York Rangers, three