MONTREAL - The names of the 34 players invited to Team Canada's selection camp for the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championships were unveiled on Monday with Canadiens prospects Carey Price, Kyle Chipchura and Guillaume Latendresse each taking one step closer to spending Christmas in British Columbia.
The five-day camp, scheduled to begin on Dec. 11 in Vancouver, will see the list get shaved down to 22 players as Brent Sutter and his staff prepare to lead the squad in its defense of their World Junior title against Finland on Dec. 26.
A total of seven QMJHL players earned an invite from Team Canada versus 13 from the WHL, nine from the OHL and five Canadian-born U.S. college players. Joining Latendresse from the Quebec league were: Luc Bourdon (Val d'Or), Kristopher Letang (Val d'Or), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Quebec), Derick Brassard (Drummondville) and 16-year-old phenom Angelo Esposito from the Quebec Remparts.
After creating quite a stir on his way to becoming one of the final cuts at the Canadiens' training camp in September, Latendresse must have had a serious case of deja-vu in his first visit to the Bell Centre since the NHL preseason.
"It's a tremendous honor to be selected and I would be proud to represent Canada," said Latendresse, who has 22 goals and 40 points in just 25 games for the Drummondville Voltigeurs so far this season. "I've watched this tournament on TV for as long as I can remember and it would be amazing to finally be a part of it."
Six of the seven QMJHL players to have made the selection camp roster were on hand and introduced with Latendresse being the last, but certainly not least, to slip on his Team Canada jersey. Although he was wearing a different red and white jersey on this day, the 18-year-old quickly found himself talking more about his long term future than his immediate one.
"Don't get me wrong, sure it would have been a dream come true had I made the team this year, but looking back I truly believe the Canadiens made the right decision in sending me back to junior," said Latendresse, who had five points in four preseason games with the Canadiens after being chosen 45th overall at this summer's draft. "Sure I thought about playing in the NHL as training camp was winding down, but I think the media made a bigger deal of it than it was really was. I must admit though that [the media] almost had me convinced there too, but I see now that I have some things to work on and another year in Drummondville will only help me. Getting a chance to win a gold medal with Team Canada this year wouldn't be too bad either."
Also hoping to make his World Junior debut is goaltender Carey Price, who would be one of the few Canadian players still able to spend Christmas close to home since he hails from nearby Williams Lake, B.C. The first goalie chosen this summer when he was nabbed at No. 5 by the Canadiens at the NHL draft, Price will arrive at the tryout camp red-hot, following his recent 162-minute shutout streak despite his slow start to the season with the WHL's Tri-City Americans.
Having been denied a chance to make last year's team due to a severed Achilles tendon suffered last fall, the Prince Albert Raiders' Kyle Chiphura will be looking to make up for lost time by cracking this year's lineup. The Canadiens' top pick (18th overall) in 2004 is one of six team captains on Canada's tryout camp roster.
This year's group will have the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of the 2005 squad that steamrolled through the competition last year in North Dakota. In fact, the roster will include only one returnee in defenseman Cam Barker as this young team attempts to become the first Canadian contingent to win the World Junior crown on home soil since Eric Daze and Alexandre Daigle led Canada to gold in Red Deer, Alta., back in 1995.
While Canada is only one title behind Russia's 12 all-time World Junior Championships, they have only won gold twice over the six previous times the tournament was held in Canada. Provincially speaking, Canada is 1-0 in Alberta (1995) and Saskatchewan (1991) and 0-1 in Nova Scotia (2003), Manitoba (1999), Ontario (1986) and Quebec (1978). Canada has never failed to end up on the podium as tournament hosts, including two gold, three silvers, and a bronze medal.
With three prospects on the tryout roster, the Canadiens rank second to only the Chicago Blackhawks, who boast four Team Canada hopefuls.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com