NHL lockout haunts Team Canada junior coach

Canadian national junior coach Steve Spott (right) has a Plan A and Plan B for the world juniors in...

Canadian national junior coach Steve Spott (right) has a Plan A and Plan B for the world juniors in case the NHL lockout continues leading up to the tournament. (KitchenerRangers.com)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 PM ET

When Team Canada coach Steve Spott mentions the term "ghost rosters," he is not referring to the haunting spirits of the past three Canadian world junior teams that frighteningly failed to win a gold medal.

Disappointing as those results may have been, Spott prefers to look ahead, not behind.

But, thanks to the ugly National Hockey League lockout, that is easier said than done.

Because so many eligible players have been sent to AHL teams or their junior clubs by the parent NHL franchises while the work stoppage between Team Bettman and Team Fehr drags on, Spott and the Hockey Canada hierarchy have a rich cache of young talent to pick from.

But what happens if the NHL and its players come to an agreement prior to the opening of the 2013 world junior tournament, which kicks off in Ufa, Russia on Dec. 26?

Under those circumstances, how many Team Canada prospects, poised to pack their bags and represent their country overseas, will suddenly be snapped up by their parent clubs and immediately be thrust into action for a shortened NHL season?

Because of this uncertainty moving forward, Spott has cobbled together a Plan A and a Plan B.

Or, in Spott's own words, a pair of "ghost rosters."

"One of these ghost rosters shows us who would be on the team -- or, at least available -- if the lockout continues leading up to the tournament. The other ghost roster gives us a blueprint of what are team might look like if the NHL has started up again by that time," Spott told QMI Agency during a phone interview Thursday.

To be fair, there always is a certain amount of flux regarding the Canadian roster whenever the world juniors roll around. Hockey Canada always finds itself playing its own version of The Waiting Game as NHL teams decide if they want to release those elite teenagers who are performing for their respected parent clubs.

"But, at least in those circumstances, we have an idea when NHL teams start their regular seasons in early October of which eligible guys are starting at the NHL level," Spott said. "At least, during a normal year, our chief scout, Kevin Prendergast, could come to us and we could figure out how to fill the holes.

"Right now, because there is no real indication of when the lockout might end, there is no certainty who will be there and who won't. That's why we have to be ready."

If the NHL work stoppage is a lengthy one, the available talent open to Team Canada would be impressive, to be sure.

Edmonton Oilers budding star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Niagara IceDogs defenceman Dougie Hamilton (Boston) and forward Ryan Strome (Islanders), Barrie centre Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg) and blueliner Ryan Murphy (Carolina), named captain of Spott's Kitchener Rangers earlier this week, would give the Canadians a star-studded foundation heading to Russia.

The previous time a world junior tournament was held during an NHL lockout, then-Team Canada coach Brent Sutter led a squad that Spott calls "the best world junior team ever assembled."

Indeed, just look at some of the names on the Canadian team that won the gold medal in Grand Forks, N.D., back in 2005: Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber, Brent Seabrook, Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Clarke MacArthur, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry -- all players who have gone on to make significant impacts at the NHL level.

According to Spott, Canada needs to ice its best junior players like that every year, lockout or no lockout. In the educated opinion of the head coach, this country can no longer expect to win consistently at the worlds without all of Canada's elite talent at its disposal.

"I think the days of us fielding a B-level of players are done," Spott said candidly. "We need our best to be successful.

"There is a dropoff, believe me. Work stoppage or not, we need guys like Scheifele and Strome. The Americans, Russians and Swedes, the past three winners of the tournament, have shown us that you need your top players available to win this thing."

In the meantime, it will be Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman who will determine which one of Spott's two ghost rosters will be used when it is time to head to Russia.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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