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McDavid 'very hopeful' he'll play in WJC exhibition

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- Connor McDavid was wearing gold. Can he help Canada win gold?

McDavid, the top prospect for the 2015 NHL Draft and the injured prospect for Canada's National Junior Team for the 2015 World Junior Championship, wore a don't-hit-me gold jersey at the team's first gathering at MasterCard Centre on Thursday.

Don't be fooled by the jersey, McDavid said. He's ready to play.

"It's fine," McDavid said of his injured hand. "I felt good. Obviously I had a couple of hiccups with the puck, but I was shooting it fine."

McDavid has been skating for the past three weeks after breaking his hand in a fight in November and expects to be in the lineup when Canada plays its first game at the 2015 World Junior Championship Dec. 26 in Montreal.

"I was going as hard as I could within the restrictions of the doctors," McDavid said. "I am doing that to the fullest. I can't take hits, but I was doing some stuff out there I shouldn't have been doing and fell on it once late in the practice and it was fine."

Canada will play three exhibition games starting Dec. 19 before the tournament begins Dec. 26 at Bell Centre in Montreal. If all goes well, McDavid could play Dec. 21 against Sweden at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.

"That’s something that I’m very hopeful for," McDavid said. "I think Team Canada is as well. It's important to be able to get into an exhibition game and get the legs going before the big day."

McDavid, who plays for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, was cleared to practice in non-contact drills and that is exactly what he did Thursday. Sort of.

Late in Canada's opening practice players were put through a shot-blocking drill. They were lined up and instructed to skate toward the blue line where an assistant coach would fire a slap shot -- with foam pucks -- in their direction and they were expected to block it.

"I blocked one, so I guess that makes it 100 percent," McDavid said with a laugh.

Canada coach Benoit Groulx witnessed McDavid's block and yanked him from the drill in case he got hurt.

"I told him, 'You know what, I don't want to have my face on TV tomorrow everywhere for that reason so get out of there,'" Groulx said.

And yet, the coach thinks shot-blocking is an integral part of winning games.

"I think blocking shots is part of the game now and it is part of being a world-class player," Groulx said. "Many of them, on their teams, are playing 20-25 minutes a game and are the go-to guys of their team. Sometimes we don't count on them to block shots because they are too important and we don't want to risk an injury that will take a guy out for three weeks, four weeks or two months. In a tournament like this you are playing for a gold medal and we expect everyone here to sacrifice his body."

Groulx said the shot-blocking drill will be a regular feature of the practices leading up to the tournament.

McDavid does not believe his injured hand will negatively affect his performance at the WJC.

"I think you guys are making too big a deal of it," he said. "I have been skating for three weeks. This isn't my first practice, so this is just another day."

McDavid had 16 goals and 51 points in 18 games for Erie in the Ontario Hockey League.

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