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Weal, McFarland to lead Canada at world under-18 hockey in Belarus

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Top NHL draft prospect Tyler Seguin won't be there, but Canada still expects to ice a gold-medal contending team at the IIHF world under-18 hockey championship.

The same problem arises every year for Canada at the spring under-18 event - top players like SeguTin of the Plymouth Whalers and Moncton Wildcats defenceman Brandon Gormley being unavailable because of the major junior league playoffs. Seguin's Whalers were eliminated after the under-18 team was unveiled.

But head scout Al Murray says Canada has plenty left over to shoot for gold at the 10-team tournament that begins April 13 in Belarus, with former Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau behind the bench.

"You don't get all the players you want, but we've got terrific depth," said Murray. "It's hard to win without your best, but we feel we have a team that can compete."

Seguin and Windsor's 18-year-old Taylor Hall are vying to be picked first overall in the NHL draft while Gormley is expected to go in the top 10.

But plenty of other top prospects are on the team, including Prince George forward Brent Connolly and Kingston defenceman Erik Gudbranson, ranked third and fourth respectively among North American skaters for the draft by NHL Central Scouting.

Sudbury forward John McFarland (ranked 15th), Moose Jaw's Quinton Howden (18th) and Regina's Jordan Weal (30th) are other potential first-round picks, as well as six-foot-five Calvin Pickard of the Seattle Thunderbirds, the top-ranked goaltender.

Weal was third in Western Hockey league scoring this season with 35 goals and 67 assists in 72 games and Greg McKegg was 11th in the Ontario Hockey League with 85 points for the Erie Otters.

Gudbranson, Connolly and McFarland are back from the team that finished fourth at last year's tournament.

Pickard is in a race with American Jack Campbell to be the first goaltender picked in the draft. The two are likely to face one another in a round robin game on April 16.

"If they go head-to-head, there'll be a lot of scouts watching," said Murray.

There are also three sons of former NHL players - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenceman Brock Beukeboom, whose father Jeff was an Edmonton Oilers rearguard, Kootenay Ice forward Max Reinhart, whose father Paul was a long-time Calgary Flames defenceman, and Oshawa Generals forward Christian Thomas, whose dad Steve once played for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Canada won the tournament in 2003 and 2008 and took the silver medal in 2005.

Murray said that while the players come from junior teams that either missed the playoffs or saw their clubs eliminated in the first round, they are still among the most gifted for their age in their leagues.

"A lot of the best players don't play for strong teams because they're rebuilding," he said. "It's a situation where they have a chance to be successful that they didn't have with their club teams."

Most of them have international experience.

Eleven were on the team that won the Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament last summer in the Czech Republic and 19 played in the 2009 world under-17 event in Port Alberni, B.C.

All the players were born in 1992 except defenceman Ryan Murray, a 1993 product who played in this year's under-17 event in Timmins, Ont.

Carbonneau, who was fired by Montreal midway through last season, has been working as an analyst on Hockey Night In Canada, but wanted to get back behind a bench.

He said he knows little about his players going into the job, but will rely on the knowledge of his assistants George Burnett and Rob Sumner, both veteran junior coaches.

"It will be a challenge," said Carbonneau. "But the people at Hockey Canada have a lot of experience in this type of tournament that I can draw on."

Murray said bringing in Carbonneau, one of the NHL's top two-way centres in his day, will "bring credibility to the dressing room. They know he's an NHL coach and player and that's good to have."

The team's second goalie is Kent Simpson of the Everett Silvertips.

Of the seven defencemen, only Murray of White City, Sask. is not from Ontario. The others are Gudbranson, Beukeboom, Geoffrey Schemitsch, Nathan Chiarlitti, Stephen Silas and Ryan O'Connor.

The only players from Quebec on the team are forwards Gabriel Desjardins and Michael Bournival.

Other forwards include Steven Shipley, Michael Sgarbossa, Ryan Spooner and Freddie Hamilton.

Canada plays in a round robin group with Belarus, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S. Their first game is April 13 against the Swiss. The other group has the Czech Republic, Finland, Latvia, Russia and Slovakia.

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