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Competition remains open on Canadian junior men's hockey team

NHL.com @NHL

CALGARY - Craig Hartsburg is keeping an open mind.

The head coach of Canada's junior hockey team could've decided to take the same players that soundly beat the Russians in an eight-game Super Series in July and August to the world junior hockey championship later this month in the Czech Republic.

But about 35 players - four goalies, 12 defencemen and between 18 and 20 forwards - will be invited to try out for the team. The selection camp roster will be announced Monday at news conferences in Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal.

Camp opens Dec. 10 in Calgary and the 22-player team that will chase a fourth straight gold medal at the IIHF under-20 men's world hockey championship will be named Dec. 14.

Canada begins defence of its title Dec. 26 in Pardubice against the host Czechs.

Hartsburg, who is coaching the junior team a second straight year at the world championship, isn't prepared to simply hand over jobs on his team to the players who went 7-0-1 against Russia.

"They had a great deal of success, but at the end of the tournament, there were some players who performed beyond maybe what everybody expected and then, on the other side of it, there were kids who left the coaches there thinking they could have done more," he said.

Hartsburg was on the phone with Brent Sutter, who coached Canada in the Super Series, every day discussing each player's performance in it.

Hockey Canada head scout Al Murray chose the players for selection camp and doesn't consider the invitees who didn't play in the Super Series as camp filler.

"Like an NHL team, some spots are basically taken by players who have played very well over a long period of time," he said. "But every player invited has an opportunity to make the team or we would have gone with a smaller camp.

"I' don't think it's going to be half a team turning over, but there will some turnover. I'll be shocked if there isn't."

But barring poor performances at selection camp, expect at least 18 players from the Super Series to reprise their roles at the world junior championship.

Super Series goaltenders Jonathan Bernier of the Lewiston Maineiacs, Steve Mason of the London Knights and Leland Irving of the Everett Silvertips will battle for the two goaltending jobs.

The eight defenceman who faced the Russians are likely to be among the dozen invited to selection camp.

Up front is where there is room for new faces on the team as Sam Gagner, the MVP of the Super Series, David Perron and captain Milan Lucic are currently playing in the NHL for Edmonton, St. Louis and Boston respectively.

Chicago's Jonathan Toews, Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal and Minnesota's James Sheppard, are also eligible (born in 1988) to play for Canada.

Hockey Canada has contacted each NHL club about the possibility of making their players available, but likely won't know if they will be until the day before camp starts.

"We contact any NHL team that has eligible players just to remind them he is eligible," said Brad Pascall, senior director of men's national teams. "We'd love to have all of them, but we're moving ahead as though we're not getting these guys and that's what we have to do."

Kyle Turris of the University of Wisconsin, Claude Giroux of the Gatineau Olympiques and Brandon Sutter of the Red Deer Rebels were standouts for Canada against the Russians and will have to be again in the likely absence of Gagner.

Oshawa's John Tavares, now 17, had a steep learning curve in the Super Series and will be counted on to produce more.

The selection camp is a day shorter this year than last as the first skate is Monday evening instead of Sunday night.

Hartsburg says many of the players invited will be familiar with his systems as they are similar to Sutter's from the Super Series, so two practices were eliminated.

The advantage the Super Series gives Hartsburg, whose day job is coach of the OHL's Ste. Saint Marie Greyhounds, and his assistants Clement Jodoin and Curtis Hunt heading into selection camp is they have detailed scouting reports on the 25 players who played for Canada. That should make evaluations easier.

Also, this edition of the Canadian team will have a head start on chemistry and camaraderie because many of them have already played together and were successful just three months ago.

"We've got a better feel for a smaller group of kids and the building of a team has already started," Hartsburg said. "What impressed me watching that team during their first practices was seeing how quickly that group bonded and really had some chemistry and that's something that's very important in this tournament."

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