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Canada taking skilled approach at World Juniors

by Aaron Vickers
CALGARY -- If Team Canada is going to earn its first gold medal at the World Junior Championship since 2009, it is skill that will give them the opportunity.

That's what Hockey Canada is expecting after announcing the 41 hopefuls who earned invitations to Canada's National Junior Team Sport Chek Selection Camp in Calgary.  

The camp will be held Dec. 10-14, with the roster for the 2012 World Junior Championship team being named at the end.

Often taking a blue-collar approach in hopes of striking gold at the WJC, Kevin Prendergast, Hockey Canada's head scout, has added a little more finesse to this year's training camp.


GOALIES -- Tyler Bunz, Medicine Hat, WHL (Edmonton); Louis Domingue, Quebec, QMJHL (Phoenix); Mark Visentin, Niagara, OHL (Phoenix); Scott Wedgewood, Plymouth, OHL (New Jersey).

DEFENSEMEN -- Nathan Beaulieu, Saint John, QMJHL (Montreal); Cody Cedi, Ottawa, OHL (2012 Draft eligible); Mathew Dumba, Red Deer, WHL (2012 Draft eligible); Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Rimouski, QMJHL), Buffalo); Brandon Gormley, Moncton, QMJHL, (Phoenix); Dougie Hamilton, Niagara, OHL (Boston); Scott Harrington, London, OHL (Pittsburgh); Brenden Kichton, Spokane, WHL (N.Y. Islanders); Joe Morrow, Portland, WHL (Pittsburgh); Ryan Murphy, Kitchener, OHL (Carolina); Ryan Murray, Everett, WHL (2012 Draft eligible); Jamie Oleksiak, Saginaw, OHL (Dallas); Alex Petrovic, Red Deer, WHL (Florida); Mark Pysyk, Edmonton, WHL (Buffalo).

FORWARDS -- Michaël Bournival, Shawinigan, QMJHL (Montreal); Brett Bulmer, Kelowna, WHL (Minnesota); Phillip Danault, Victoriaville, QMJHL (Chicago); Phillip Di Guiseppe, University of Michigan, CCHA (2012 Draft eligible); Michael Ferland, Brandon,  WHL (Calgary); Brendan Gallagher, Vancouver, WHL, (Montreal); Freddie Hamilton, Niagara, OHL (San Jose); Quinton Howden, Moose Jaw, WHL (Florida); Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John, QMJHL (Florida); Boone Jenner, Oshawa, OHL (Columbus); Mark McNeill, Prince Albert, WHL (Chicago); Tanner Pearson, Barrie, OHL (2012 Draft eligible); Zack Phillips, Saint John, QMJHL, (Minnesota); Ty Rattie, Portland, WHL (St. Louis); Max Reinhart, Kootenay, WHL (Calgary); Brad Ross, Portland, WHL (Toronto); Mark Scheifele, Barrie, OHL (Winnipeg); Jaden Schwartz, Colorado College, WCHA (St. Louis); Ryan Spooner, Kingston, OHL (Boston); Mark Stone, Brandon, WHL (Ottawa); Ryan Strome, Niagara, OHL (N.Y. Islanders); Christian Thomas, Oshawa, (OHL, (N.Y. Rangers); Tyler Toffoli, Ottawa, OHL (Los Angeles)
"These guys, I think, are more finesse players," Prendergast said. "We have a lot of great puck handlers, guys who really distribute the puck well. I think last year's team had more of a blue-collar atmosphere around it. This team is going to have a little bit more of an offensive tangent."

With only three returning players heading to camp -- forwards Quinton Howden and Jaden Schwartz and goaltender Mark Visentin -- Prendergast and coach Don Hay have the opportunity to redefine Canada's approach.

"I think the skill factor overall (is higher)," Prendergast said. "We have a lot of skilled defensemen. Not near as big as we were last year, but we have good players back there. We're young up front compared to where we were last year, but you look at these kids, you look at their stats, where they were drafted in the (NHL) draft, they were in NHL camps for a while. They understand what they have to bring when they get here."

Hay agreed with Prendergast's assessment of the camp roster.

"Obviously we have a high skill level and we want to use our skill to the best of our ability," Hay said.

Of the 41 players invited, 14 are first-round NHL picks, including 11 taken at the 2011 Draft.

"We only have three returning players, but boy, you look at this roster and we have a lot of depth," said Bob Nicholson, CEO and President of Hockey Canada. "You talk to Kevin Prendergast and he thinks we're as deep as we've ever been. It's going to be a very competitive camp here."

The 41 players represent 22 NHL teams, with three teams having three prospects each invited -- the Phoenix Coyotes (goalies Visentin and Louis Domingue, defenseman Brandon Gormley), the Montreal Canadiens (forwards Michael Bournival and Brendan Gallagher, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu) and the Florida Panthers (forwards Howden and Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman Alexander Petrovic).

The team also has the chance to be younger. Four players -- defensemen Cody Ceci of the Ottawa 67s, the Everett Silvertips' Ryan Murray and the Red Deer Rebels' Mathew Dumba, and forward Phillip Di Guiseppe from the University of Michigan -- are eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, while Tanner Pearson of the Barrie Colts also is eligible after being passed over in the 2010 and 2011 drafts.

The average age of the 41 hopefuls is 19 years, two months, 19 days; 13 players were born in 1993 and one, Dumba, in 1994.

"I think compared to last year's team, it's going to be a bit younger because of the guys still in the National Hockey League," Prendergast said. "Skill level probably is going to be a little bigger, though."

As impressive as the list of invited players is, there actually are more that retain junior eligibility but currently are in the NHL. That list includes Edmonton forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Boston forward Tyler Seguin, Carolina forward Jeff Skinner, Philadelphia forward Sean Couturier, Columbus forward Ryan Johansen, Tampa Bay forward Brett Connolly, Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson, and Anaheim forward Devante Smith-Pelly.

Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada's vice-president of hockey operations for national teams, said he's heard that Skinner, Seguin and Nugent-Hopkins will be unavailable for the 2012 WJC, but is waiting to hear definitive answers on the others.

"If we get them back it's like a Christmas present," Prendergast said. "If we don't, we just move on."

Gudbranson, Couturier, Johansen and Connolly all helped Canada to silver at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo.

Should the team be without any additional help from the NHL, one of the players that will be counted on heavily will be Howden. The Moose Jaw Warrior had 2 goals and 5 points in seven games last year in Buffalo.

"It would be one of the greatest feelings in the world," Howden said of the possibility of another shot at gold. "I think you can ask anybody. You go back to some of the alumni, everyone says it's the greatest feeling in the world to be able to throw this (Hockey Canada jersey) on your chest. If I get the opportunity to do it again, it will be a great honor."

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