Juniors still have golden goal

London Knights' Sam Gagne, left, and Steve Mason hope to be wearing their country's flag at the...

London Knights' Sam Gagne, left, and Steve Mason hope to be wearing their country's flag at the world junior championships this year. (London Free Press/Morris Lamont)

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

It remains to be seen what experience is worth for Junior Team Canada.

Coach Craig Hartsburg and the rest of Canada are hoping it's worth its weight in gold.

Team Canada will have 11 returning players from last year's gold medal-winning team when 38 players report for the National Junior Selection Camp Monday in Calgary.

This year's world junior championship is in Sweden, from Dec. 26- Jan.5.

Only the 2005 team, maybe Canada's best ever, had more returning players (12) and that was partly because the NHL lockout made available players that otherwise wouldn't have been.

"We've got a lot of depth and that should make for a very competitive camp in Calgary with 11 returning players," said Hartsburg, Team Canada's head coach. "If they come back and use their experience in a leadership role, it can be a plus. Will some of thereturning players be in a battle (for a spot)? I think so.

"The 22 players that put on that jersey will play for each other and they'll play for the front of the jersey -- and we all know what that represents."

The blue line will have the potential of five returning players: Luc Bourdon, Kristopher Letang, Ryan Parent, Kris Russell and Marc Staal.

Among the returning players up front from last year's gold medal-winning team in Vancouver is Steve Downie. The Peterborough Petes rough-and-tumble forward knows his experience guarantees nothing this time around.

"Experience is huge," he said. "You know what to expect and you know what you've got to do. But it doesn't mean you've got a guaranteed job. You've still got to work hard."

Gatineau Olympiques forward Claude Giroux earned an invitation to the camp, as did Ottawa 67's draft pick Cody Bass of the Mississauga IceDogs.

Hartsburg said he thought Giroux's game got "better and better" at Team Canada's summer camp.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him compete in Calgary," said Hartsburg. "We need him to come in and show his stuff. He has the ability to produce offence, but he needs to fit into the team. Everybody at some point is going to have to change their approach compared to their own teams.

"We'll be looking for players who are willing to play and accept a role. The role for some of these players will be very different from what they're used to playing with their own club teams. We're looking for players willing to sacrifice their own goals for the good of this hockey team."

Downie said that was a big part of why last year's team was so successful.

"No one was unhappy. No one was mad. Everybody accepted the role they were given and that's a part of why we won," he said.

Ottawa 67's forward Logan Couture, sidelined for 10 games this season because of mononucleosis and understandably off to a slow start, was not picked to attend the selection camp.

"That set him back some," said Hartsburg of Couture's illness.

But Hartsburg, who coached the OHL team, of which Couture was a part, against a touring Russian squad last week, said Couture will get his chance down the road.

'GREAT PLAYER'

"He's going to be a great player. He's a young player who's going to have many chances (to play for junior Team Canada) ahead of him. I coached him in that game against the Russians. He's got talent. He's a smart player."

Oshawa Generals 16-year-old forward John Tavares, who ripped through the 67's on the weekend with eight points as the Gens rolled to a pair of wins, is the youngest player. He turned 16 in September.

Hartsburg won't be checking birth certificates when it comes to who makes the team.

"We're trying to win this year," said Hartsburg. "If Tavares or any of those young guys can help us win this year, they'll make the team. Giving them experience for next year is not something we're looking at.

"Our goal is to win every year. If one those young guys can help us win, they'll make it."


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