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Canada names team for inaugural women's under-18 world hockey tournament @NHLdotcom

Canadian forwards Marie-Philip Poulin, Brianne Jenner and Natalie Spooner will be among the top prospects in the spotlight during the inaugural women's under-18 world hockey championship.

Their ultimate goal is to represent the country at the highest level and the Jan. 7-12 tournament in Calgary represents a great opportunity to prove they can be future Olympians.

Melody Davidson, general manager of the national women's program and head coach of the under-18 team, announced her lineup Friday.

"They're a very talented group," said Davidson. "They play with a lot of emotion and passion.

"They're very proud to be part of the team so there's not a lot of challenge to get them up for games."

Poulin is only 16 but she leads the Canadian Women's Hockey League in scoring with 33 points in 12 games with the Montreal Stars.

"She's very creative, she has great vision with terrific skills to go with that vision, and she's got a tremendous work ethic," said Davidson, who sees a bit of senior national team stars Hayley Wickenheiser and Danielle Goyette in the teen from Beauceville, Que. "She's got the Wick intensity and drive and the Goyette creativity."

Poulin credits her Stars teammates for much of her success. All she'll take credit for when asked to explain her great stats are "my hockey sense and my skating."

She can't wait for New Year's to pass so she can get to Calgary.

"We're very excited about this tournament," she said. "I think we will do well."

Spooner, 17, a Torontonian whose club team is the Durham West Lightning, is described by Davidson as a "prototypical power forward."

"She's still learning to play the full team game but she brings a lot of leadership to the table," said the head coach. "She has a physical presence in the corners, battles for the puck and can score."

There will be 20 games. For the opening round robin, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland and Germany will be in Group A, while Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States will be in Group B.

Canada plays the Czechs on Jan. 7, the Germans on Jan. 8 and the Finns on Jan. 9. Games for the medals will be played Jan. 12 in Father David Bauer Arena.

Davidson said the tournament represents a priceless training ground.

"It's the first-ever so it's a bit of history," she said. "I'm not sure the players will appreciate that right now but they will in years to come."

Jenner, 16, started skating when she was two and began playing hockey at age three.

"My dad ran a league in Oakville so I had lots of opportunity to get onto the ice," she said. "My brother (Graham) played so I wanted to play, too.

"Now, it has become something that I am really passionate about. I wouldn't want to spend my time doing anything else."

She's happy she'll get to be teammates with players who are normally opponents.

"This is an exciting opportunity being part of the first-ever under-18 team," she says.

She wouldn't go out on a limb when asked if her team will win gold.

"I guess we'll see come January," Jenner offered.

Canada's roster includes 15 members of the team that swept the United States in a three-game series in Ottawa last August.

"When we brought them Ottawa, some of them cried when they walked into the dressing room and saw their names on the back of the sweaters because they were so proud to be representing Canada," Davidson recalled.

Samantha Watt, 17, of Cremona, Alta., will be on the blue-line in Calgary.

"I found out last night and I'm still trying to soak everything in," said Watt. "It's very exciting for me."

Watt began skating when she was only 19 months old. Her 20-year-old brother, J.D. Watt, plays for the WHL's Red Deer Rebels.

"It was either figure skating or hockey and I chose hockey," she said. "It's a rush every time I step on the ice and get to pass that puck around.

"Being able to play with the best female players in the world is such an honour and I'll learn something every time I'm on the ice. We have a great group of girls. I really hope we win gold in Calgary."

Canadian women's hockey is known for having strong goaltending, and this team should be no different. Delayne Brian of Winnipeg and Amanda Mazzotta of London, Ont., both 17, will be stopping pucks.

"At their age, it's so hard to tell what you're going to have but based on our under-18 nationals we feel we have the best available goaltenders for this tournament," said Davidson.

Canada is somewhat behind some of the other countries sending teams at the under-18 level nationally, she added.

"They've been working on that age group to develop depth in their programs nationally," Davidson explained. "We've used our under-22 program to bring players along while the provinces ran the under-18.

"The driving forces behind having this tournament were the non-North American countries who have those teams and want to see where they're at."

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