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As usual, Team Canada loaded with CHL talent

by Brad Holland / NHL.com

2007 Team Canada golatender, Leland Irving, will be returning to the 2008 team. Karl Alzner, Brad Marchand and coach Craig Hartsburg will also be returning.
The players invited to Team Canada’s Junior Selection Camp were announced Monday. Thirty-seven players were invited to the camp, which will run from Dec. 10-14 in Calgary, to compete for sports on the Canadian entry at this season’s World Junior Championships. There, Canada will be looking for a fourth-straight gold medal.

Craig Hartsburg will be returning as Team Canada’s coach, as will three skaters from the 2007 team: defenseman Karl Alzner of the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, forward Brad Marchand of the Quebec League’s Val-d’Or Foreurs, and goaltender Leland Irving of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips. The rest of the invitees will be attempting to win their first berth on the Canadian squad.

”To me, other than the Olympics, it’s the greatest tournament in the world,” Hartsburg told NHL.com. “The enthusiasm, the intensity, the emotion that is involved in the tournament is second to none.”

Of the remaining 33 skaters looking to crack Team Canada’s lineup for 2008, 31 compete for Canadian Hockey League clubs; seven skate for teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, 13 for teams in the Ontario Hockey League, and 15 for teams in the Western Hockey League.

Two players, Kyle Turris and Brendan Smith, skate for the Wisconsin Badgers of the WCHA.

All are elite members of their respective teams. But simply being a top dog does not guarantee a berth on this team. The competition is that fierce. Hartsburg is looking for a very specific chemistry, a good “mix” of players to bring to the Czech Republic in December and early January.

”It’s difficult every year,” Hartsburg said. “You’re cutting players who are stars on their teams, in their leagues, and, as a coach, you have to find the right mix. You need talent, skill, and speed. But a Canadian team works, has character, will sacrifice for the team, and it comes down to the types of kids you pick, so there’s a lot of high scorers that are left off.”

Nobody knows this more than Oshawa Generals’ forward John Tavares, who was left off the team last season despite compiling a 72-goal, 134-point campaign in 2006-07.

“You need the right chemistry, character, that will perform at its best and play different roles,” said Hartsburg.

Tavares will be just one of a rink full of top scorers in Calgary looking to fit into that chemistry, as an eager country looks on.

Around the OHL -- Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds goaltender Kyle Gajewski was named the Boston Pizza OHL Player of the Week for the period ending Dec. 2. Gajewski backstopped the West Division-leading Greyhounds to a 3-0-0 record with a 1.30 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in the three key matchups during the past week. Gajewski and the Greyhounds defeated division rival Sarnia and Windsor and then followed up those two big victories with, perhaps an even bigger win against the Memorial Cup hosts and the current top-ranked team in the CHL, the Kitchener Rangers.

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

QMJHL Player of the Month awards were handed this week for November.

Taking home the Offensive Player of the Month honors was Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward Francis Pare, who scored 13 goals and had 15 assists in 11 games. His recent play has propelled him up the QMJHL scoring lists, as he now sits fourth in overall scoring with 21 goals and 44 points in 31 games.

Defensive honors went to Halifax Mooseheads defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, who will be competing for a spot on Team Canada’s roster for the 2008 World Junior Championship in the coming weeks. Bodnarchuk, a fifth-round pick of the Bruins in 2006, scored four goals and assisted on nine others in 12 games.

Finally, Rookie of the Month honors went to Sagueneens forward Nicolas Deschamps. Deschamps, in only his third month of Major Junior play, scored seven goals and added 10 assists and a plus-7 rating in only 11 games. He now sits third on the rookie scoring list, behind Tomask Knotek of the Mooseheads and Mikhail Stefanovich of the Remparts, with 11 goals and 14 assists in 31 games.

TELUS Offensive Player of the Week is forward Brad Marchand of Val-d’Or. Marchand was a third-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2006.

Around the QMJHL --TELUS Offensive Player of the Week honors were also handed out, and Val-d’Or forward Brad Marchand was given the nod. Marchand, a third-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2006, scored three goals and added seven assists in only three games. He scored three times and assisted on three others during an 8-6 defeat of Rimouski. Marchand now has 20 goals and 19 assists in only 31 games this season. … Defensive Player of the Week honors went to Rouyn-Noranda defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon, who scored a goal and added five assists in only two games. On the season, Bourdon leads all QMJHL defensemen with a plus-14 rating while his Huskies sit atop the TELUS division with 45 points in only 32 games.

Western Hockey League

The Nashville Predators selected Chiliwack forward Mark Santorelli with their fourth-round pick in 2007, so they obviously knew they had something on their hands. But they probably didn’t anticipate Santorelli leading the WHL in scoring almost halfway through the 2007-08 season.

Santorelli has 16 goals and 54 points in only 31 games this season, and leads the WHL scoring race by nine points over Spokane forward Drayson Bowman and fellow Bruin Oscar Moller.

But it is likely Santorelli’s recent play that has the Predators most pleased. After scoring only seven goals in his first 26 games, he has scored nine goals during a five-game streak. The Bruins, in addition, are likely also quite pleased, as they have won three of those five games, and played the other two teams -- the Tri-City Americans and the Portland Winter Hawks -- tough, to the tune of two 4-3 defeats.

Around the WHL -- Dustin Tokarski, who was born on Sept. 16 of 1989, missed the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by only one day. But he’s taken his extra year and put it to good use. Ranked No. 5 in the Central Scouting preliminary rankings for WHL goaltenders, Tokarski currently leads the league in goals-against average (1.64) and save percentage (.924), and has put together a 10-game winning streak for the U.S. Division-leading Chiefs. … Remember the name Brayden Schenn. The 17-year-old rookie defenseman from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is already so far ahead of the learning curve as to be drawing interest from NHL scouts for the 2009 Draft Class. Schenn has 26 points in 29 games from the blue line, including an impressive 12 goals, helping his Brandon Wheat Kings rush out to the East Division lead with a 19-9 record and 39 points in 29 games. They are currently tied with the Regina Pats, though the Wheat Kings have two games in hand. … Tri-City Americans forward Colton Yellowhorn had a hat trick Saturday night in a 5-2 defeat of the Seattle Thunderbirds. Yellow Horn now has a point streak of 10 games, during which he has recorded 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points, propelling the Americans to an 8-2 record during that stretch. The Americans now have a record of 20-6 and have pulled to within five points of the U.S. Division-leading Chiefs, but with two games in hand.

United States Hockey League

This week the USHL’s most exclusive coaching club, the 500-victory crew, welcomed its third member. Omaha Lancers coach Mike Hastings earned No. 500 in a 2-1 defeat of the Des Moines Buccaneers.

Hastings is entering his 14th season behind a USHL bench, during which time he has complied an overall coaching record of 500-204-51. He is the only coach on the list to have earned all 500 victories with the same team.

Hastings’ Lancers currently sit tied for first in the West Division with the Sioux City Musketeers with 28 points apiece.

Around the USHL -- RBK Player of the Week honors this week went to Jordan Willert of Tri-City, who scored four goals and added an assist as his Storm split their weekend games. Willert scored twice and assisted on one other in a 4-3 defeat of Sioux Falls on Friday and followed that up with two more goals in an 8-5 loss to Sioux City on Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound forward from Minot, N.D. now has nine goals and 13 points in 19 games this season. … Indiana Ice defenseman Paul Kemp broke the Ice’s record for consecutive games with a point this week, picking up two assists in a 4-3 shootout defeat of the Waterloo BlackHawks on Saturday night. Kemp has now recorded at least one point in 12 straight games. … Tim Buttery, a smooth-skating defenseman from Northville, Mich., has had a wild last few weeks. In addition to officially committing to Michigan State University for the 2008-09 season, Buttery was awarded the CCM Defensive Player of the Week honors as his Chicago Steel swept two road games. Buttery had three assists and five shots on goal in wins against Lincoln on Friday and Sioux Falls on Saturday. … Shane Madolora of the Omaha Lancers earned the Stauber’s Goalcrease Goaltender of the Week honors this week, as he was the goaltender of record in Hasting’s 500th win. Madolora made 31 saves to preserve the 2-1 score in only his seventh game of the season.

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