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Canada's WJC pool is young, deep, talented

by Shawn P. Roarke

"If we are young, that's what we are. We still set out with the same goals, although the message may need to be changed a little by the coaching staff if we are younger."
-- Pat Quinn

Age is only a state of mind.

Pat Quinn, the 65-year-old coach of the Hockey Canada's entry in the upcoming World Junior Championship, probably knows that better than most. And, as a result, he refused to buy into the idea that Canada is putting its run of four-straight gold medals at the U-20 championship on the line by naming so many under-agers to the National Junior Selection Camp.

Hockey Canada named 38 players Wednesday and, somewhat surprisingly, 18 of the players selected are 18 or younger. For most, the World Junior Championship is considered a tournament for 19-year-olds with only the most exceptional under-agers being afforded the opportunity to represent their country on amateur hockey's biggest international stage.

But Quinn never has been one to buy into preconceived notions and ill-conceived truisms. He always has been about doing what is best for his team, be it in the NHL, in junior hockey or on the international stage.

"If we are young, that's what we are," Quinn said of the possibility that the final roster of 22 players could be dominated by "under-age" players. "We still set out with the same goals, although the message may need to be changed a little by the coaching staff if we are younger.

"I think, at the end of the day, when we pick the team on Dec. 15, we'll pick 22 players that we hope will come together as a team."

Quinn talked a lot about character and intangibles being as important as skill in evaluating the candidates for the 2009 World Junior Championship team, which will be gunning for a fifth-straight goal medal – on home ice, in Ottawa, no less.

"We'll be looking for players that are willing to make the commitment to team play," he said. "Three days may not be enough to do that, but that's what we are trying to do."

The camp, which begins Dec. 11, features three on-ice days before closing on Dec. 15 with the selection of the team.

And, while it will be hard to evaluate Canada's best teen-aged players in such a short time frame, Quinn is blessed with the embarrassment of riches that Hockey Canada scouts have delivered to his door.

"We had 65 legitimate candidates and we had to narrow it down to 38 and it was very tough, very tough," said Al Murray, Hockey Canada's chief scout. In fact, Murray entered the process hoping to present a 34-player list to Quinn, but he had to widen his net a bit because of the depth of players available.

"We could have gone into the 40s if we wanted to," Murray said. "The ideal number for something like this is 34 because it is three lines, six defenseman and two goalies. But the coaches felt that there was depth there, so we added an extra forward and an extra 'D' to each team to get up to 38 players.

There is no arguing with the depth argument either.

First of all, the team returns four key players -- superstar forward John Tavares, clutch forward Zach Boychuk and defenseman Thomas Hickey and P.K. Subban -- from the squad that claimed gold last winter in the Czech Republic.

Tavares, a high-scoring forward with Oshawa (Ontario Hockey League) is considered a lock to go as either the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. He is in competition with defenseman Victor Hedman, who will represent Sweden in the World Junior Championship.

Hickey, the No. 4 selection by the Kings in the 2007 Entry Draft, has 15 points in 22 games with Seattle (Western Hockey League). Subban, a second-round selection of Montreal in 2007, has 33 points in 26 games. Boychuk, who started the season with the Carolina Hurricanes after being selected at No. 14 in this June's Draft, has 20 points in 16 games with Lethbridge.

Twenty-one of the 38 invitees are first- or second-round picks in the past two Entry Drafts. Six of the players invited are considered top-flight prospects for the 2009 Entry Draft and Taylor Hall is among the fashionable picks to top the 2010 Draft class.

Plus, the team features seven players who are captains at the club level and another 13 that serve as alternate captains for their clubs.

The club team captains are Brandon defenseman Keith Aulie, Barrie forward Stefan Della Rovere, Vancouver's Hickey, Brampton forward Cody Hodgson, Quebec defenseman Kevin Marshall, Niagara defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and Prince George forward Dana Tyrell.
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