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Experience, speed offset lack of size for Canada

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

"We have quickness. If we place the puck properly we can still get pressure where we want. As far as smoking somebody, maybe we don't have that player, but we'll finish the checks off. We'll win the battle for the puck and that, to me, is what it's all about."
-- Team Canada coach Pat Quinn

Four players who helped Canada win the gold medal last year in the Czech Republic will return for the host nation's "drive for five" at the 2009 World Junior Championship.

The tournament will be played in Ottawa from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, with the Canadians trying to repeat their five-straight titles from 1993-97.

John Tavares, who tied for the team lead with 4 goals at last year's event, headlines the returning group. The 18-year-old center currently is tied for the Ontario Hockey League goal-scoring lead with 25 goals in 31 games for the Oshawa Generals.

Tavares is one of the favorites to be the top pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, battling Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, who will play for Sweden in the World Junior Championships.

Forward Zach Boychuk also is back from the '08 team. Taken No. 14 in June's draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, he started the season in the NHL before being returned to the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League. After going scoreless in two NHL games, he has 26 points in 21 WHL games, and is a plus-18.

Defensemen Thomas Hickey and P.K. Subban are the other members of the '08 team returning for 2009.

Hickey, taken by the Kings with the fourth pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, had an assist and a plus-4 rating at last year's tournament, and has 18 points in 26 games for the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds this season. Subban, a 2007 second-round pick by the Canadiens, was scoreless at last year's event; he's third among OHL defensemen this season with 37 points in 29 games with the Belleville Bulls.

Hickey was named team captain, with Tavares, Boychuk, Subban and Cody Hodgson were named alternates by head coach Pat Quinn.

Among the first-time selections is forward Angelo Esposito, who made the team after being cut from three previous tryout camps. Esposito, a 2007 first-round pick by the Penguins who was dealt to the Thrashers in the Marian Hossa trade in February, has 15 goals and 27 points in 21 games with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Montreal Juniors.

Hodgson is another first-timer. He captained the Canadian team to gold in the spring at the Under-18 World Championship under Quinn, who replaced Benoit Groulx as coach of the WJC team in September. The No. 10 pick of the 2008 Entry Draft by the Canucks, he's seventh in OHL scoring with 42 points in 23 games with the Brampton Battalion.

Other forwards named to the team were Jamie Benn (Stars, fifth round, 2007); Patrice Cormier (Devils, second round, 2008); Stefan Della Rovere (Capitals, seventh round, 2007); Chris DiDomenico (Maple Leafs, sixth round, 2007); Jordan Eberle (Oilers, first round, 2008); Tyler Ennis (Sabres, first round, 2008); Brett Sonne (Blues, third round, 2007); Dana Tyrell (Lightning, second round, 2007).

While the forward group doesn't have the size that has been a staple of past Canada teams, this group's strength is skating and puck-moving skills.

 
"We have quickness," Quinn told reporters. "If we place the puck properly we can still get pressure where we want. As far as smoking somebody, maybe we don't have that player, but we'll finish the checks off. We'll win the battle for the puck and that, to me, is what it's all about."

Among the defensemen named to the team was Ryan Ellis, who joins Tavares as the only 2009 Draft-eligible players on the roster. Ellis, who plays for the Windsor Spitfires, is fourth in OHL scoring with 48 points in 30 games. He leads all OHL blueliners in scoring, and his 15 goals top the list for goal-scoring among defenders.

Ellis is the first 17-year-old defenseman to make a Canadian World Junior squad since Jay Bouwmeester in 2001.

Three players from the defense-rich 2008 first round made the team -- Alex Pietrangelo (No. 4, Blues), Tyler Myers (No. 12, Sabres) and Colten Teubert (No. 13, Kings) -- as well as Keith Aulie (Flames, fourth round, 2007) and the University of Wisconsin's Cody Goloubef (Blue Jackets, second round, 2008), the only NCAA player picked.

Two WHL goaltenders were named to the team. Dustin Tokarski, who backstopped the Spokane Chiefs to the 2008 Memorial Cup, will compete with Chet Pickard of the Tri-City Americans for playing time.

"During exhibition games they'll each get one (game) to play with and then we'll start to see if we can focus in," said Quinn. "I would prefer to have one to go with, but it may not be the case and we'll just play it by ear. I've learned in the past that you don't make statements before the tournament about how you want to play your goalies because it changes."

Tokarski, a fifth-round pick in 2008 by the Lightning, has 16 wins and a 1.97 goals-against average, second in the WHL.

Pickard was the 2008 WHL and Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year and was taken No. 14 by the Predators in June. He's third in the WHL with 18 wins and has a 2.50 GAA.

Canada is certain to be among the gold-medal favorites despite not having access to eligible players like Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and Luke Schenn, all of whom are in the NHL.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.
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