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Neal out of world championship; Coburn, Vlasic added to Canada's roster @NHLdotcom

DUBENDORF, Switzerland - As the IIHF World Hockey Championship nears its second week, the Canadian team remains a work in progress.

Canada's management team intentionally left a couple of roster spots open - and found themselves with another one when forward James Neal was lost to an eye injury - but didn't think it would be so difficult to fill them.

"We're finding out that a number of guys have nagging injuries," general manager Doug Armstrong said Wednesday.

He was able to add defencemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Braydon Coburn and another forward should be on the way soon.

Ideally, the final wave of players would already be in Switzerland but Armstrong and assistant GMs Joe Nieuwendyk and Pierre Gauthier wanted to hold off until the first round of the NHL playoffs was over.

For various reasons, they were turned down by Jarome Iginla, Dan Boyle, Mike Richards and others. Armstrong was still holding out hope of landing a top forward for the final roster spot.

"We're looking for players that fit into the needs of this team," he said.

Canada, which has reeled off three lopsided victories to open the event, faces the Czech Republic on Thursday (2 p.m. ET). Even though there have been no glaring weaknesses so far, Armstrong and his staff know that tougher competition lies ahead.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Vlasic and Coburn can mesh with players who have been practising together for roughly 10 days.

The newest team members won't arrive until Friday.

"It's always tough joining a team when they've been together for a little while," said defenceman Dan Hamhuis, playing in his fourth straight world championship. "This is as late as I think anybody's ever joined Team Canada in the last while."

A traumatic injury has forced Neal to head home early.

He'll take a swollen left eye back as a souvenir after receiving a high-stick from Slovakia's Ladislav Nagy just three seconds into his first shift on Tuesday night. The players bumped in the neutral zone and Nagy's stick came up under Neil's visor, slicing the Canadian forward's eyelid.

It required a trip to the hospital for a painful set of stitches.

"The good news is it's not something that's career-threatening or career-ending," said Armstrong. "It's just serious enough to take him out of this tournament.

"From Hockey Canada, the coaches and the players, we're really disappointed he won't be able to finish the tournament with us. He's a great young man and he's got a great future ahead of him."

The 21-year-old made a good enough impression in two games that coach Lindy Ruff intended to give him some time on the top unit with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. Neal came here for an experience but never dreamed it would be this one.

"He was pretty down last night," said assistant coach Dave Tippett.

All in all, it's been an unusual start to this world championship.

Canada has yet to use the same lineup for any of its three games and will have a fourth different look Thursday. Even still, the team hasn't missed a beat by outscoring its opponents 22-4 so far.

The players don't expect that to change even though the arrival of new bodies will change the role of some guys who are already here.

"We're all hockey players - we can get along pretty good with each other," said captain Shane Doan.

In the past, Hamhuis has missed the run-up to the event while competing in the NHL playoffs and found that it took a little time to get comfortable.

It's not simply a matter of putting on the Canadian jersey and going out for a skate.

"There's a lot of adjustments you've got to make," said Hamhuis. "The big ice is something you're not used to and the European teams play it differently than what you're used to. (You're also) playing with different teammates and then of course you're dealing with the travel and being tired.

"There's a lot of things (they're) going to have to deal with in a short amount of time."

Armstrong and his staff can certainly identify.

They've spent months planning for this tournament and are still making important decisions well after it started. The NHL playoffs force every country to contend with that to some degree.

The biggest break of all for the Canadian team might have come when Washington completed its comeback win over the New York Rangers, likely keeping Alex Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin from joining the rival Russians.

Armstrong wasn't openly rooting for that result.

"Quite honestly, you want to play the best," he said. "And you want to compete against the best, so if they had shown up I think we would've been there for the challenge. They're probably happy Pittsburgh won also because there's some great Canadian players there.

"I mean, that's the nature of this tournament. You take the players you have and we're excited about the group we have here."

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