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'Bigger role' awaits Cowen at 2011 world juniors

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defence prospect Jared Cowen is part of the 22-man roster named today to represent Canada at the IIHF 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

This time, Jared Cowen figures to be a major force on the largest of holiday hockey stages.

The big blueliner with a big future for the Ottawa Senators will take another major step in his development when he suits up for Canada at the IIHF 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Buffalo.

For the 19-year-old native of Allan, Sask., it's his second crack at the world juniors. But while Cowen wasn't a big part of the Canadian blue-line brigade at the 2010 WJC in his home province, that should change in a major way at the upcoming tournament.

"This year, Jared is going to have a bigger role on the team," said Pierre Dorion, the Senators' director of player personnel. "He's going to be one of the leaders. I think he'll be an important part of that team."

When the Senators made Cowen their first-round pick (ninth overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, they envisioned the 6-5, 227-pounder as a future shutdown force on their blue line. And Dorion expects Team Canada to get exactly that from Cowen in Buffalo.

"He'll probably play on a shutdown pair," said Dorion. "That's what we think he'll be down the road for us, a guy that plays against the other team's top line. He'll use his range, his size, his defensive play, his body angles and his stick to eliminate some of the other team's offence.

"We just want to see him have a solid tournament. Compete with the best kids his age in the world and be one of the better kids in his age group and help Canada win. Whatever role they want for him, make sure he can contribute in that way. The way we want him to play down the road for us is the way he should play for (Canada)."

And this time, Cowen arrives at the world juniors without any worries about the major knee injury he suffered in January 2009. He was still recovering from surgery when the 2010 WJC rolled around, but that's in his past now.

"Last year, he was (playing) six or seven months after a serious knee injury," said Dorion. "Maybe he didn't have the confidence for that type of tournament, but because of his character and how well he played at the evaluation camp last year, they wanted to bring him on (this) team.

"He showed through the adversity that he was a big-time character guy. I think that's one of the reasons he'll be a big leader (for Canada) this time. Through adversity last year, he didn't say a word, played hard and practised hard when he could. That's why he'll have a bigger role this year."

Canada begins play in the 2011 WJC on Dec. 26 against Russia at HSBC Arena in Buffalo (4 p.m., TSN). Also in Canada's preliminary-round group are Sweden and the Czech Republic, both of which could include Senators prospects on their rosters. Goaltender Robin Lehner, a second-round pick (46th overall) in the 2009 draft, is expected to see significant duty for the Swedes, while forward Jakub Culek, a third-round selection (76th overall) in the 2010 draft, is a candidate for the Czech team.

"I would think he would be one of the key players on their team," Dorion said of Lehner. "When that age group (of Swedes) played at the Under-18 (worlds), he was the starting goalie for them. So I think it would be a natural progression that he'll also be a big part of that team this year."

Foligno's brother makes the grade for Canada

Nick Foligno is Buffalo-born and has twice represented the United States at the IIHF World Hockey Championship. But he has one compelling reason to cheer for Canada at the 2011 WJC — his younger brother, Marcus, who'll wear the red maple leaf in the tournament.

"I'll be cheering for Marcus Foligno, that's for sure," the Ottawa Senators forward said when asked about his rooting interests. "I'll definitely be cheering for Canada. Family (blood) is definitely thicker than anything else."

The Foligno brothers were both born in Buffalo during the time their father, Mike, was playing with the Sabres. While Nick's hockey path eventually took him to the U.S. national junior team development program, which is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., his younger brother went through most of his hockey growth north of the border.

"Marcus is American born," said Nick. "But he's Canadian made."

Mike Foligno finished his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the family later moved to Sudbury when he became coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Wolves (he's now an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks). Needless to say, it'll be a source of family pride when Marcus, a fourth-round Sabres draft pick in 2009, pulls on the Canadian jersey in his birthplace.

"I'm really proud of him," said Nick, who spoke with his brother this morning after hearing he'd made the Team Canada roster. "He's been wanting to play for that team for as long as he's known he's been able to. It's pretty nice to see his dream come true and see him achieve that.

"It's a great opportunity for him going back to Buffalo, too, where he was drafted and born. It just sets the stage for a great thing for him and, hopefully, he can do really well for (Canada). I don't have any doubts that he will."

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