Veteran presence

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 5:44 PM ET

The number of the day is 11, but Canada is just as concerned with three.

No less than 11 teenagers who won gold for Canada at the world junior championship last winter in Vancouver are back to try to do it again, Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Leksand and Mora, Sweden.

With 11 veterans on the roster, Canada will shoot for its third consecutive gold. No country has won three in a row since Canada reeled off five titles from 1993-97.

"What's going to have to happen is one group of 11 is going to have to pull in the other group of 11 and make them feel a part of it," coach Craig Hartsburg said. "They have to learn to trust each other.

PRESSURE

"We can't worry about pressure with trying to win for the third year in a row."

That trust has been percolating for the past week. The Canadians departed from Calgary and headed to Finland, where the players stayed in cottages at the training centre that normally is used by Finland's national teams, before going to Sweden.

Five defencemen, including partners Marc Staal and Ryan Parent, and Luc Bourdon and new captain Kris Letang, and Kris Russell were part of the stingiest team in tournament history. Forwards Andrew Cogliano, Winnipeg's Jonathan Toews, Steve Downie, Tom Pyatt, Ryan O'Marra and Daniel Bertram also return.

"It's different because it seems more intense (having been through it once),"Downie said. "But Craig is not much different than (last year's coach) Brent Sutter. It's just with this kind of experience, guys will know what it takes."

O'Marra made an interesting point, noting that Canada got by just fine with neophytes last year, as only Winnipeg's Cam Barker played the year before in North Dakota.

Newcomers who should have an impact include forwards Brad Marchand and Bryan Little.

Though Canada is the favourite, this will not be a stroll through the park. Two clubs which are targeted to finish with medals, host Sweden and the United States, will be Canada's opponents in the first two games. To a lesser extent, Finland and the Czech Republic could make some noise, and though Russia does not have a major attraction, counting it out now would be foolish.

And just because Canada oozes veteran leadership does not exclude potential for trouble. There are no returning goalies, and that was not a problem in the past two years, when Justin Pogge and Jeff Glass helped lead Canada to gold. The coaching staff hoped 19-year-old Carey Price, the fifth pick overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2005, would take charge at the selection camp. That did not happen, and Canada broke camp without a clear No. 1 in goal.

"We won last year because all 22 guys were on the same page, and that's not something that just happens,"Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said. "It will be a real challenge. This team has to create its own identity. I am not sure if confident is the right word, but there is a comfort."


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