CALGARY - Only three returning players from last year’s world juniors team have been invited back for this year’s event.
Rest assured, they will have extra motivation that goes beyond the fact this year’s tournament is in their home country.
Remember how last year’s event ended? Canada had a 3-0 lead going into the third period of the gold-medal final against Russia, but watched it disappear in a shocking 5-3 loss in Buffalo.
“It was something hard to swallow, something hard to get over,” recalled forward Quinton Howden of Oak Bank, Man. “But this year is a new year, a new team.
“It brings a lot of excitement having it at home. We know we’ll have the crowd behind us, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Barring an airlift of players from the NHL ranks, where eight junior-eligible players are currently skating, Canada’s squad to hit the ice at the holiday event in Calgary and Edmonton will have a very different look from last year’s edition.
Howden, goalie Mark Visentin and forward Jaden Schwartz are the only three players from that team who are among the 41 named to the training camp roster, which was unveiled Monday.
The selection camp runs Dec. 10-14 in Calgary, and Canada opens the tournament Dec. 26 against Finland in Edmonton’s Rexall Place.
“We only have three returning players, but boy, you look at this roster, we’ve got a lot of depth,” said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. “It’s going to be a very competitive camp.”
None of the returning players are on the blueline, which could be seen as a risk.
To combat the rearguard inexperience, head scout Kevin Prendergast has compiled a 14-player blueline brigade for training camp that boasts seven first-round draft choices, as well as three 2012 draft-eligible players — including Ryan Murray and Mathew Dumba, who are both potential top-five picks.
“We have a lot of talented hockey players back there, so it’s a point of them coming in and playing the way they’re capable of playing,” Prendergast said.
Right now, many of the players invited may be relatively unknown to casual fans, but Canada’s crew consists of 16 first-round draft choices.
Even if fans don’t see the likes of Edmonton Oilers standout rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, there remains plenty of talent. The way Predergast is approaching things, any additions from the NHL ranks is a bonus.
“At this point, you don’t give it any thought,” he said. “We feel we have a good enough hockey club we can compete for what we want. Any time you get players who are in the NHL, they’ll bring something different to the team, but at this point, there are none coming.”
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