Little, Gagner fish out of water

TERRY KOSHAN, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 6:58 PM ET

LEKSAND, Sweden -- They remain among the scoring leaders in the Ontario Hockey League, weeks after their departures from their clubs.

But after three games with Canada at the 2007 world junior championship, Bryan Little and Sam Gagner find themselves at the other end of the statistics sheet, with zeroes beside their names.

This tourney often is about players adjusting to doing things they usually do not, and Little and Gagner are perfect examples.

Before last night's OHL games, Gagner of the London Knights was second in scoring with 63 points in 29 games, and had a point in every game but three. Little of the Barrie Colts was fourth with 62 points in 30 games and was held off the scoresheet four times.

Gagner was restricted mainly to power-play duty against Germany on Friday and Little has been on the wing of a checking line.

"In Barrie, I am used to playing 30 minutes a game and here I am getting a couple of shifts a period," said Little, who was born in Edmonton and moved to Cambridge at age 5 when his father John had a job transfer. "Coming here, I did not know what to expect, and I understand now I am not going to see that much ice time. It's a really hard adjustment."

But if Little -- the 12th pick overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2006 NHL entry draft -- wants a silver lining, it does hurt to be playing well defensively against what is supposed to be the best junior-aged competition in the world.

The Thrashers don't mind that Little is not being given a true chance to use his offensive talents.

"He is not going to be on the first power-play when he gets (to Atlanta), so this adds to his experience," Thrashers director of amateur scouting and player development Dan Marr said. "It's a tremendous life and hockey experience. If you win a medal, 10 years from now, nobody asks how much ice time you had."

Unlike Little, Gagner will have another shot at playing for Canada at the 2008 world junior in the Czech Republic. The 17-year-old said that leaning on his father, Dave, who played more than 900 NHL games, has helped.

"It's awesome having him here because he has been through this before," Gagner said. "He knows what it is like to not play a lot. You always want to score big goals, but I know it is different for me here."

Canada has not been generating a ton of offensive chances, but Hartsburg said he did not envision putting Little or Gagner back at centre. Andrew Cogliano, Jonathan Toews and Tom Pyatt returned to that position after playing there for Canada last year and were not about to be moved.

"That's a pretty hard group to crack," Hartsburg said. "I'm sure there are some parts where (Gagner and Little) are wondering if they can do more, and we think they can. It's an adjustment but certainly we encourage them every day."


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