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Chemistry key to Canada's success

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Team Canada's Selection Camp is being held at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary, AB.

CALGARY - 'Star struck' might be stretching it, but even though Jonathan Huberdeau is a second-year veteran of the World Junior Championship and a high-profile talent himself, skating on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was something special.

"He's a great player," Huberdeau said, smiling. "It's a great opportunity -- I'm getting the chance to skate with great players in Nuge and Mark Scheifele, so it's going to be good. I can't wait; I'm very excited and am really looking forward to the game tonight."

Huberdeau, Nugent-Hopkins and Scheifele will compose Team Red's top line in an intrasquad game tonight vs. Team White at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.

"I've never played with Nuge," added Scheifele, a Winnipeg Jets prospect. "There isn't a whole to say, other than it's a great opportunity and he's a great player. We're going to be developing so much chemistry each day this week, so it's only going to get better. I can't wait."

Neither can Nugent-Hopkins. Like Huberdeau, who isn't coy to deny he wants to be Canada's leader by sporting the ‘C' in Russia, RNH sees chemistry as the most pivotal point. Without it, a highly skilled team can fall in an instant. And considering Team Canada hasn't won gold since 2009, the onus is on the players to bring it all together as one.

That makes Tuesday morning's practice and evening matchup all the more vital.

"We have the personality to be a great team," said Nugent-Hopkins, pointing out the star power among them. "It's exciting to be a part of it."

Nugent-Hopkins stands out among the rest, but there's plenty of skill to make mention of: Ty Rattie, Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Rielly (who I've consistently trumpeted as the best defenceman in the 2012 draft), Ryan Strome, JC Lipon, Jonathan Drouin, Hunter Shinkaruk, Nathan MacKinnon and so on.

The list never ends. But as Nugent-Hopkins warns, it's a useless exercise to list off the big names and highlight-reel talent Canada possesses. The World Junior Championship is a short tournament, meaning the best team isn't always the one declared as such on paper.

"We know what the pressure and expectations are going to be," he said. "We've got to focus on each game, each practice, and come together as a team right away.

"If we come together off the ice, things will come together on it."

If Day 1 is any indication, Nugent-Hopkins, Huberdeau, Scheifele and 34 others are off to a strong start.

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick

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