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Hickey and Boychuk among leaders on Canadian junior team expected to be young

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The next Canadian junior hockey team might not be deep in experience, but the few veterans it does have are well-seasoned in international hockey.

Not only did defenceman Thomas Hickey and forwards Zach Boychuk and John Tavares win a gold medal at the 2008 world junior hockey championship in Pardubice, Czech Republic, they were also together on the junior team that beat Russia 7-0-1 in the Super Series in 2007.

That experience is valuable to the 2009 edition of Canada's junior team.

The Canadian team, which will chase a fifth straight gold medal when the tournament opens Dec. 26 in Ottawa, is expected to be young. Eight of the country's best 19-year-olds are currently playing in the NHL.

The summer series versus Russia was a one-time event to commemorate the 1972 Summit Series. Canada won all four games in Russia before coming home and finishing it off with a 3-0-1 record.

"That helped a ton," Hickey said Wednesday from Swift Current, Sask. "It wasn't exactly like the world junior tournament, but playing at that level of hockey with players who are that skilled prepares you.

"We were all very fortunate to be part of that and it gives us a little bit of an edge when we come to events like this where normally you have a few butterflies, but you can deal with it a little bit better now."

Hockey Canada is expected to announce its selection camp roster next week and the organization's motto has always been no player is guaranteed a spot on the team.

But Hickey, captain of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Lethbridge's Boychuk, Tavares of the Oshawa Generals and Belleville defenceman P.K. Subban, who was also a gold medallist in the Czech Republic, would have to play themselves off the team at selection camp, or be injured, not to represent their country again

Boychuk was just 17 during the summer series against Russia. It felt like a springboard for him to the world junior tournament in Europe and this one in Ottawa as well.

"I was one of the youngest guys and I started out as a fourth-line guy and I ended up moving up a little bit, getting some power-play time and my confidence just went through the roof," Boychuk recalled.

"All these little steps that lead up to the world juniors really helps and makes you become more of a leader within the best players in Canada."

Hickey and Boychuk are captain and assistant captain respectively on the Western Hockey League team that is playing the Russian selects in the annual ADT Canada-Russia Challenge.

The six-game series, which also included games against the Ontario and Quebec leagues, wraps up Thursday in Prince Albert, Sask.

Tavares, projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, had three goals and an assist in two games for the OHL. Subban, a Montreal prospect, scored in the one game he played.

Hickey, a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, is a candidate to wear the 'C' for Canada in Ottawa. He's not particularly big at five-foot-11, but his agility and positional play make him difficult to beat one-on-one.

"I'm looking to take a big leadership role, but at the same time I understand everyone is a leader on their own club," Hickey said. "I'm going to do what I do with my club team and I think that will help a lot of guys, especially because I was there last season.

"Being a leader is something I want to bring to the table."

Boychuk, a Carolina Hurricanes prospect, has shifty speed and surprises goaltenders with his quick shot in full stride. He says he's recovered fully from surgery on his left wrist in July.

"I'm one of the older guys and this is kind of the year you're supposed to make the world junior team and have the biggest impact," Boychuk said.

"Being on last year's team, it gives me the added experience and added leadership that I can share with the younger guys and help them through the tough times if we face any adversity in Ottawa or even during the camp."

The world under-20 hockey championship is considered a showcase of the best 19-year-olds, although the Canadian team that won gold in the Czech Republic had an average age of 18 years 11 months.

For that reason, Hickey feels youth isn't a barrier to winning a fifth straight gold in Ottawa, which would tie the country's record for consecutive titles.

"You look at last year and we had two 17-year-olds and a bunch of young guys there and it was never a concern with us," Hickey said. "If anything, I'm excited."

Other veterans of the 2008 squad eligible to play again are in the NHL. Most, if not all, will stay there and they are Colton Gillies (Minnesota), Kyle Turris (Phoenix), Brandon Sutter (Carolina), Drew Doughty (Los Angeles) and Luke Schenn (Toronto).

The Edmonton Oilers aren't likely to make 19-year-old forward Sam Gagner available for the 2009 junior team since they didn't for the 2008 edition. Windsor forward Josh Bailey, also 19, is currently with the New York Islanders.

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