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Sens want Zibanejad in North America, not at WJC

by Mike G. Morreale

Ottawa Senators prospect Mika Zibanejad, who helped end 30 years of championship futility for the Swedish National Junior Team by scoring the tournament-winning goal in January at the 2012 World Junior Championship, will remain in North America this year instead of helping his country defend its gold medal in Ufa, Russia.

The Senators confirmed a Swedish report Thursday that stated Zibanejad would remain in North America, where he plays for the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League.

"We feel like keeping Mika here to play in North America is the best decision for his development," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said. "As a young player and person, he’s learning how to play the North American style and continues to progress playing for Luke [Richardson, coach] in Binghamton. Our opinion is that the best way to continue his progress towards becoming an impact player with the Senators is to spend the full season here."

Zibanejad, the sixth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, has one goal, seven points and a minus-3 rating with Binghamton.

On his gold medal-game winning goal against Russia at the 2012 WJC gold-medal game, Zibanejad drove down his right wing and broke in one-on-one against Russian goalie Andrey Makarov before backhanding a shot into the cage 10:09 into overtime. The goal gave his team a 1-0 victory before 18,722 at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.

It was Sweden's first title in the elite under-20 hockey tournament since 1981.

"It was obviously one of the biggest moments for me in my hockey career so far," Zibanejad told in August. "It was unbelievable. Obviously it makes it more special because [the last gold] was 31 years ago. It's a big thing back home, and it's been bigger every year. We got closer every year. People are interested in how we're doing. It was amazing."

Sweden coach Roger Ronnberg said over the summer that he didn't anticipate having Zibanejad for his team's repeat attempt in 2013, but he would have welcomed him with open arms if he was able to play.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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