|Mark Katic, a New York Islanders prospect, was one of 44 Canadian skaters invited to participate in Hockey Canada's National Junior Team Development Camp.
– When he played back the message waiting for him on his answering machine and heard Dave Cameron offering a coveted invitation from Hockey Canada, Mark Katic
felt as though he had been drafted all over again.
Cameron's message and an e-mail that followed explained the details for Hockey Canada's National Junior Team Development Camp. The messages represented an opportunity – and only an opportunity – for one of Katic's hockey dreams to come true.
"Your whole life there are three things you watch growing up: the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL Draft and the World Juniors," Katic told NHL.com. "Getting invited to this thing is like the drafted all over again. You get butterflies in your stomach." Katic is one of Canada's 44 finest hockey-playing teenagers who took the ice Saturday at the University of Ottawa Sports Complex hoping to impress Hockey Canada's staff enough to earn the real invite, the one to play for his country in the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships, which open Dec. 26 here in the nation's capital.
The four-day camp concludes with a third and final scrimmage Tuesday night, and by then head coach Benoit Groulx and assistants Cameron and Willie Desjardins will have a better idea of what their team could look like come December.
"It's about getting to know them better and how hard do they compete, how much hockey sense do they have, how do they skate and how can they fit into this team in the system we want to put in," Groulx said. "At the end of these four days we'll know more about them on and off the ice."
Groulx was quick to note that the 44 skaters – three others are here, but unable to participate due to injuries – are not trying out for the team. They are simply being evaluated so the coaches can intelligently pick the team later in the year.
"There are many guys that I have never seen them play, so it's a great opportunity for us to evaluate them while they play among the top players in the country," Groulx said. "We expect this camp to be intense. It's a short camp, but it's an opportunity for them to show us what they bring to the ice."
Hockey fans will recognize most of the names in this camp. Of the 44 skaters, 42 have been selected in the NHL Entry Draft, including 19 first-rounders and 11 second-rounders. The two who haven't been picked – John Tavares and Nazem Kadri – become eligible for the draft next year. Tavares is the consensus No. 1 pick for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Kadri is considered a first-rounder as well.
Half of the top 10 picks from this year's draft – Drew Doughty (No. 2, Los Angeles), Alex Pietrangelo (No. 4, St. Louis), Luke Schenn (No. 5, Toronto), Josh Bailey (No. 9, New York Islanders) and Cody Hodgson (No. 10, Vancouver) – are here.
From the 2007 draft, No. 3 pick Kyle Turris (Phoenix), No. 4 Thomas Hickey (Los Angeles), No. 9 Logan Couture (San Jose) and No. 11 Brandon Sutter (Carolina) are also in attendance. Hickey is joined on the sidelines by Zach Boychuk (Carolina, No. 14, 2008) and Cody Goloubef (Columbus, No. 37, 2008). Schenn, Sutter, Doughty, Tavares, Turris, Boychuk, Hickey, P.K. Subban and Colton Gillies all played for Canada's gold-medal winning team in Prague at last year's World Junior Championships.
Steve Stamkos, the No. 1 pick of this year's draft and a member of last year's gold-medal winning team, was invited but unable to attend because he's in Victoria, B.C., at Tampa Bay's prospect evaluation camp.
"You watch the World Juniors every year at Christmas time and as I started getting older I started seeing guys out there that I knew," defenseman Tyler Myers, who went to the Buffalo Sabres with the 12th pick at this year's draft, told NHL.com. "To get an opportunity to come to this camp is very exciting."
Groulx said even though there are nine players in camp who played for last year's team, no roster spot is guaranteed.
"We don't expect anyone here to take anything for granted," he said. "For sure we know them better and what they have done in the past, but we have to show them what we expect from each and every one of them."
While the camp is designed for the coaching staff to evaluate the players, it shouldn't be lacking in intensity when the scrimmages begin Sunday night in front of a paid attendance crowd.
The players are broken up into teams, Red and White, and will have no off-ice interaction for the duration of the camp. They are staying in the same hotel, but on different floors. They are eating in different locations and at different times. They are practicing in the morning at different times so they can arrive separately.
"We expect this camp to be intense. It's a short camp, but it's an opportunity for them to show us what they bring to the ice." - Canadian National Junior Team head coach Benoit Groulx
The only time the two teams will see each other is on the ice for the three evening scrimmages.
"They really stress the team unity here, White against Red," goalie Chet Pickard, a first-round pick for the Nashville Predators this year, told NHL.com. "It's exciting. I'm sure it'll be a good battle on the ice. It's going to keep the intensity up pretty high."
Since playing for Canada in the World Juniors is a dream that more than 80 percent of the players here haven't yet realized, nerves obviously were a factor leading up to the first practice sessions Saturday evening.
"Yeah, definitely, but you really have to try not to get nervous," Islanders second-round draft pick Corey Trivino told NHL.com. "It's more about what you can do on the ice. You want to show the scouts that I am able to play at this kind of level."
Pickard said his teammates on the White squad were antsy as they waited for Team Red to finish their practice Saturday night. Team White will go second again Sunday morning, but the time slots will switch for Monday and Tuesday.
"This camp has had a lot of hype about it. There are a lot of good players here," Pickard said. "All of us were here an hour and a half before practice, just walking around and waiting. We couldn't wait to get out there."
Can you blame them?
They've only been dreaming about playing for this team since the first time they nestled in on a cold winter night to watch the World Junior Championships more than a decade ago.
"Every year at Christmas I know every kid in Canada is watching the World Juniors and wishing they can be a part of it," Katic said. "Just to get invited means they seem to like me. That's something to be proud of."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org