The six returning players for the Canadian National Junior Team have some unfinished business this time around when the 2013 World Junior Championship commences later this month in Ufa, Russia.
It isn't often Hockey Canada has the luxury of fortifying its junior lineup with NHL-caliber talent, but that's precisely the situation coach Steve Spott finds himself following three days of evaluation at Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary this week.
And that's a good thing, considering what's at stake for the 23 players named to the Canadian roster Thursday evening.
This year's team has six returning players from last year's bronze medalists, including defensemen Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins) and Scott Harrington (Pittsburgh Penguins), as well as forwards Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets), Ryan Strome (New York Islanders), Boone Jenner (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers).
"It's always nice to win your last game like we did [for the bronze medal], but it would have been nice to be in that gold-medal game," Harrington said Monday. "I know all Canadians -- especially the six of us that were on the team last year -- want us to get to Russia and, hopefully, give them the same fate."
Canada suffered a 6-5 semifinal loss to Russia in the medal round last year. Russia would then drop a 1-0 overtime decision to Sweden in the gold-medal game, while Canada scored a 4-0 triumph against Finland for the bronze.
Not only hasn't Canada won a gold medal at the WJC since 2009, but last year's bronze-medal finish in Calgary marked the first time in 11 years that the country wasn't playing for the most coveted color at the event.
Scheifele, who likely will be inserted on the top line with center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers) and left wing Huberdeau, is looking forward to getting back on the ice to represent his country.
"It wasn't what we wanted [last year]," Scheifele said. "It was very disappointing. Having that happen to you, I definitely think it makes you stronger. You don't want to go through that feeling again. You want to get the gold that much more."
The team's second offensive line might consist of Charles Hudon (Montreal Canadiens) of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Niagara IceDogs teammates Strome and Brett Ritchie (Dallas Stars). Strome leads the Ontario Hockey League with 62 points (22 goals, 40 assists) in 32 games this season.
Huberdeau and Strome were tied for second in scoring for Canada in six games at the 2012 WJC with nine points apiece. Huberdeau had a team-leading eight assists and Strome notched three goals.
With key returnees, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft (Nugent-Hopkins), and three exceptional 2013 draft-eligible prospects (Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and J.C. Lipon of the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL), Canada will have quite a blend of leadership and exuberance throughout its lineup.
In December 2010, Nugent-Hopkins, then 17, was cut from Canada's team on the last day of camp. In December 2011, he was already a key member of the Oilers while averaging a point per game, so he was not released by the organization.
MacKinnon, the No. 1-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary list of players from the QMJHL, will be the captain for Team Cherry at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Jan. 16. Drouin, who is MacKinnon's linemate in Halifax, will be an alternate captain for Team Cherry.
The duo has combined for 41 goals and 100 points with the Mooseheads this season.
Fans can expect the top defensive pair to be Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs) of the Moose Jaw Warriors and Hamilton, who finished with two goals, six points and a plus-7 rating in six tournament games last year.
Defenseman Ryan Murphy (Carolina Hurricanes) of the Kitchener Rangers will finally get an opportunity to represent his country at the WJC after being cut on the final day of camp the previous two years.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale
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