TORONTO - Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner are ready to welcome Lawson Crouse into the fold.
The three players are tabbed to play on Canada's top line at the upcoming world junior hockey championship. Strome and Marner are good friends who felt comfortable skating with Crouse right away.
"He's very easy to play with, creates open ice for me and Mitch," Strome said Friday after practice at MasterCard Centre. "A big body out there and he can shoot the puck. I think he complements us pretty well."
Marner is second in the Ontario Hockey League's points race behind London Knights teammate Christian Dvorak with 22 goals and 36 assists in 25 games (entering Friday's games). Strome is fifth in the OHL with 16 goals and 37 assists in 25 games for the Erie Otters.
"It's a lot of fun, couple of skilled guys, it's nice to be on that line," said Crouse. "They're very skilled and they seem to have very good chemistry so it's nice to be on a line with them. It's been a fun few practices with them."
Crouse has nine goals and 15 assists this season for the Kingston Frontenacs. But as one of only three players returning from last year's gold-medal winning team, he's one of the veteran leaders in Canada's locker-room.
At six foot three and 213 pounds, Crouse also adds a physical element at left wing that Canada's top line would otherwise lack. Marner (5-11, 164) plays right wing while Strome (6-3, 194) is at centre.
"There's a lot to like about our line," said Marner. "You've got speed, you've got size. Crouser's a big guy and can create space for me and Dylan to make plays. Crouse can also put the puck in the net."
Marner and Strome have played against each other for most of their lives but only struck up a friendship on Ontario's under-17 team at the 2013 world junior A challenge in Yarmouth, N.S. Since then they've stayed in touch and hang out in the off-season.
"I didn't really like (Marner) too much back when we were younger," said Strome. "We never played on the same team, ever, until the under-17s. Even then the first game we weren't on the same line and then the second game we were down 4-1 after two periods, and coach switched things up and threw us on the same line and he ended up getting the hat trick in the third period.
"Ever since then we started to bond at these events and play cards and stuff all the time and it translates over the summer."
Head coach Dave Lowry said the Marner-Strome-Crouse line would not be playing in Saturday's exhibition against a team of all-stars from Canadian universities.
That's a sign those players are assured a trip to Helsinki. Canada opens the tournament in the Finnish capital on Dec. 26 against the United States.
Strome, Marner and Crouse aren't taking anything for granted though, with all three insisting they have to work hard throughout the selection camp to earn their place on the team.
"You're trying to play for your country here," said Strome. "There's no given spots no matter who you are. They said they're going to take the best 22 or 23 guys over to Finland and that's the way it goes. If you don't play up to standard then you're not going to be on the team.
"Gotta work hard every day, every practice, every time you step on the ice."
All three players are anxious to see ice time together in an actual game, however.
"Should be a lot of fun," said Marner. "I guess we'll see when the game comes if we've still got the chemistry, but hopefully it's still there."
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