Threepeat quest begins

MIKE BELL, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 5:24 PM ET

For Craig Hartsburg, the hard part's over.

Now the fun begins.

Yesterday morning, the rookie head coach made the final six cuts necessary to cement the 22-player roster which Team Canada will take to Sweden for the IIHF World Junior Championship that begins Boxing Day when they face the host squad (11 a.m., Ch. 21).

"I'm glad that part of it's over," Hartsburg said during a morning press conference prior to the snapping of a team photo and then a 5:45 p.m. flight overseas.

"That's the worst part of it, now hopefully we can get our team together and have some fun with it."

This version of Team Canada has 11 returning players from last year's gold medal win in Vancouver, including five defencemen and six forwards.

Some of the notables include: Marc Staal, who was named the 2006 tournie's best defenceman; Ryan Parent, whom Staal was partnered with last year; Calgary forward Daniel Bertram; Winnipeg-born winger Jonathan Toews; and Philadelphia first-rounder Steve Downie (forward).

Out of the new crop, the highest profile names include Calgary Hitmen defenceman Karl Alzner and Calgary Flames goaltending prospect Leland Irving.

"We've got a good group," said Hartsburg.

"We like their character -- I think that's a big part of the selection process.

"Certainly they all have skill but character is important and all these kids have it.

"We wanted to make sure we had ... kids that will play for each other and play for the team and sacrifice for the team and battle and work like a group that's on a mission."

Leading the mission is this team's Captain Canuck, defenceman Kristopher Letang, who will wear the 'C' alongside a rotating group of four associate captains (Staal, Toews, Downie and forward Tom Pyatt).

"It's a great honour for me," said Letang, a Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick from Ste-Julie, Que.

"But every guy on this team is their own captain on their home team, so I think they are good leaders, (too)."

So, with the skill, depth and leadership having been addressed, perhaps the only question mark remaining with this year's junior team -- and an important one -- is in the crease.

"I think the goalie is going to make the difference, again," Letang agreed, referring to last year's sensational run by former Hitmen 'tender and current Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Justin Pogge.

"It's a very important part for our team."

Hartsburg has yet to name either Irving or Montreal Canadiens first-round pick Carey Price his No. 1 'keeper for the tournament.

Instead, he's hoping one of the two will grab the job during the next week of practice or one of the two exhibition games they'll play.

"The two that we kept, Leland and Carey, they got stronger and stronger as the week went on," Hartsburg said. "I think that's what separated them from everybody else.

"Everybody was in a pack together and then I saw that in the last day or so here, those two stepped up."

Hartsburg, no doubt, will have fun watching if they can do it again.


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