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Sutter excited to get junior hopefuls into game action

by Adam Kimelman

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- It's been seven years since Brent Sutter has gone about building Canada's national junior team, but so far he's enjoyed being back in his current situation, and expects the fun to continue as Canada joins the United States, Finland and Sweden here for USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp.

After three days of skating at the Montreal Canadiens' practice facility in Brossard, Quebec, Canada hit the ice at Herb Brooks Arena on Tuesday for the first time.

"It's been a good three days," Sutter said, "and it'll be another good few days here."

The good times start Wednesday afternoon when Canada faces Finland. While it's hockey in August, Sutter has in mind a few things he's hoping to see from his players.

"Hockey intelligence, getting a feel for how we need to play, forming an identity of what we're about as a team," he said. "It's not easy when you're playing three games in four nights and you're going into a situation where you've had three practices. These other teams have been playing already. But that's the mental part of the game [and] you have to overcome that, any obstacles, and that's what I want to see -- I want to see some intelligent play out there, disciplined play. I want to see what our speed is like. The discipline part of it, I want to make sure we're picking things up and playing the right way."

The lineup for Wednesday includes Eric Comrie, a Winnipeg Jets prospect, starting in goal. It will be his first game since Jan. 9; Comrie had season-ending hip surgery in February.

"I had a cam impingement, a little excess bone," he told "They shaved that down and I felt really good. I feel more flexible, stronger, quicker than I ever had before."

Sutter has seen Comrie in action; he coached the Red Deer Rebels against Comrie's Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League. Because Comrie now is healthy, Sutter is treating the opening-game start as a bit of a reward.

"Here's a kid that didn't play a lot of hockey last year with his injury, [so] get him going right away," Sutter said. "He's obviously a very good goalie. … Just running through the few practices here he's been pretty sharp."

Comrie said he was honored when Sutter told him he was starting against Finland.

"It's pretty exciting," he said. "I was lucky enough to get into [a scrimmage] with our team two days ago and it was a lot of fun. It's good to get some game action back in. I'm super excited to go in [Wednesday] and get the start. I'm really excited and I hope we have a good showing."

With Comrie starting Wednesday, Sutter said Zachary Fucale would start Thursday against Sweden, and Jake Paterson -- the third goalie on the 2013 World Junior Championship team -- would start the camp finale against the United States.

"With [Paterson], he's a guy that was knocking on the door last year," Sutter said. "He's the oldest of the three, so I thought he could play the last game. And with Fucale, he could take Game 2 against the Swedes. There's a little bit of thinking in all three, but most important thing is they all get one game and they get the chance to backup one game."

One other interesting lineup decision for Wednesday was the shift of Sam Reinhart, a frontrunner to be the first pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, onto a line with Kerby Rychel and Brendan Gaunce -- in other words, away from 16-year-old phenom Connor McDavid.

"You want to see different guys in different situations," Sutter said. "There's a reason why you take the two young guys [Reinhart and McDavid], one of them will play [Wednesday] and one of them isn't, because they've been playing with each other and you want to see how they'll play with someone else. So we'll get a feel for that after the first couple games."

While Sutter likely will juggle lineups in an attempt to see what puzzle pieces fit together best over the next few days, he said the overall value of the camp will be in what the coaching staff is able to learn about each player.

"The biggest thing as far as myself and the staff is that we have to do everything we possibly can to give them every chance to succeed," he said. "That's our role. At the same time, we're trying to build things and learn things so that the individuals that are back at Christmastime and whoever might come back from the NHL or whoever might be coming here at that time from their club teams, they have a feeling of what this is all about and what the coaches are all about. … At least when they all leave here they know what the expectations are, they know what the coaching staff is expecting from them and what they're expecting from each other."


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