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Super Series veterans make competition tight at Canada's junior team camp

NHL.com @NHL

CALGARY - Karl Alzner, Zach Boychuk, Brandon Sutter and Ryan White looped their arms around each other's shoulders for photographers and hoped they will strike the same pose after the gold-medal game of the world junior hockey championship.

The four players were among the 37 invited Monday to try out for the Canadian junior hockey team. The selection camp roster was announced at news conferences in Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal.

Head coach Craig Hartsburg and assistants Clement Jodoin and Curtis Hunt will whittle that group down to the 22 players who will chase a fourth straight gold medal for Canada at the IIHF world under-20 men's hockey championship later this month in the Czech Republic.

"Every world junior tournament, we expect to win gold," Hartsburg said from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., during a conference call. "It's a lot of responsibility on our kids.

"We'll pick the kids we feel will fit the mould and bring back that gold medal for us."

Four goalies, a dozen defencemen and 21 forwards have been summoned to do battle for two, seven and 13 jobs. Camp opens Monday at Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary and the team will be named Dec. 14.

Canada opens defence of its title Dec. 26 in Pardubice against the host Czechs.

The ideal international player for Canada has above-average foot speed, the ability to contribute both offensively and defensively and a sky-high work ethic.

Successful Canadian teams have had goaltenders who inspire and give confidence to the players in front of them, a blue-line that can keep shots to the perimeter and move the puck quickly up the ice and forwards who won't sacrifice defence to score, but will bury their chances when they get them.

Superior special teams, particularly the penalty kill, were what made Canada so dominant in its eight-game Super Series against Russia in August and September.

This Canadian junior team will look similar, but not identical, to that team that went 7-0-1 against the Russians.

Captain Milan Lucic will not reprise his role in the Czech Republic because the Boston Bruins aren't making him available to the Canadian team.

Hockey Canada hadn't received a definitive answer Monday from the Edmonton Oilers on Sam Gagner, or from the St. Louis Blues on David Perron. Gagner was the MVP of the Super Series.

Other NHL players who are age-eligible (born in 1988 or later) to play for Canada are Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal, Minnesota's James Sheppard and Chicago's Jonathan Toews, but their respective NHL clubs are keeping them.

All players who participated in the Super Series have been invited to selection camp and are expected to make up the majority of this edition of the Canadian team.

Hockey Canada scout Al Murray chose the players from a pool of about 75 and says there is room for someone who didn't participate in the Super Series to play his way onto the team.

"There were a number of players who could have played in the Super Series, specifically at forward, and the depth there is terrific this year," he said. "There's more good forwards that are very close to taking each other out."

Defensive specialist Sutter, who plays for the Red Deer Rebels, Claude Giroux of the Gatineau Olympiques, Kyle Turris of the University of Wisconsin, Brad Marchand of the Val-d'Or Foreurs and 17-year-old John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals are virtual locks to play for Canada again, although Sutter isn't so sure.

"There's still a team to make," Sutter said. "Just because we played in the summer doesn't mean we're on the team. There's still a roster to make, new faces coming in and it's going to be a tough camp."

Marchand, Alzner and goaltender Leland Irving of the Everett Silvertips are three veterans of the team that won gold at the 2007 world junior tournament in Sweden.

Canada isn't as deep on defence as it is at forward. Alzner, Drew Doughty of the Guelph Storm, Thomas Hickey of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Logan Pyett of the Regina Pats, Luke Schenn of the Kelowna Rockets and Keaton Ellerby of the Moose Jaw Warriors will likely make up Canada's top six on the blue-line.

Irving, Steve Mason of the London Knights and Jonathan Bernier of the Lewiston Maineiacs will battle for the two goaltending jobs with Tyson Sexsmith of the Vancouver Giants the dark horse.

Tavares and Steve Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting, both 17, will be the two youngest players in camp. Stamkos is the projected No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft.

"There are probably 10 players born in 1990 that were seriously, legitimately looked at," Murray said. "When you break their game down night after night, the only two that I felt were ready to perform against this level of competition were these two guys."

White, a Calgary Hitmen forward, hasn't played for Canada since he represented Team West in World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2005.

"Even today, to put the jersey over my head, brings a smile to my face," White said. "It's a great opportunity for me."

Notes - The Western Hockey League leads invitees with 15, followed by the Ontario Hockey League at 13, the QMJHL with seven and the U.S. college ranks with two . . . The average age of the selection camp roster is 19 years, 30 days and the average height and weight is six feet and 187 pounds.

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