Phase 1 of Canada's road to the 2006 World Juniors in Vancouver is currently underway in nearby Whistler, where the 44 top under-20 players in the country are vying for a spot on the Team Canada roster. The camp will run from Aug. 10 through 15, culminating in an intra-squad game on the last day.
The deep pool of talent in Whistler features 25 players chosen in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, including 11 first-rounders. Every player but Bryan Little, who will only be eligible for selection next summer, is an NHL draftee.
Keeping a watchful eye on Canada's finest are head coach Brent Sutter, who has returned to guide the club after winning gold a year ago in North Dakota. His staff includes former Canadiens assistant coach Clement Jodoin.
The Canadiens will be well represented as one of four teams to have three players attending camp. Only the Chicago Blackhawks boast more invitees, with four. Five NHL clubs will not have a prospect invited, those being Boston, Carolina, Los Angeles, New Jersey and Toronto.
Leading the way for Montreal is 2005 top pick Carey Price, who was the first goalie selected at the draft last month. Joining him are forwards Guillaume Latendresse, Montreal's second pick this year, and center Kyle Chipchura, the Canadiens' top selection last summer.
Chipchura returns to camp for the second straight year, having been among the favorites to nab a spot on the 2005 squad before a severed Achilles tendon cost him virtually his entire 2004-05 season with the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders. The 18th overall pick in 2004, Chipchura's two-way play and in-your-face style make him a perfect fit for Sutter's brand of hockey.
Price will battle it out with three other netminders for the coveted No. 1 spot in goal. His competition includes QMJHL products Pier-Olivier Pelletier of Drummondville (drafted 59th overall by Phoenix in 2005) and Shawinigan's Julien Plante (drafted 189th overall by Vancouver in 2004), as well as Devan Dubnyk of the Kamloops Blazers (drafted 14th overall by Edmonton in 2004). Price will be looking to become the first Montreal prospect to land the top job between the pipes since Jose Theodore led Canada to gold in 1996 to secure Canada's last of five-straight junior championships.
The intra-squad game scheduled for Monday night at GM Place in Vancouver will see the Canadiens prospects divided. Price and Chipchura will join forces as part of Team Red, while Latendresse, the 45th overall pick at last month's draft, will play for Team White.
Regardless of who makes the cut, the three young Montreal talents will reunite soon enough. Price, Latendresse and Chipchura will be in town next month for the Canadiens' rookie camp, and will don the same colors to take on other young guns as part of a rookie tournament.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.