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Ottawa WJC adds Senators flavour

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Soon enough, they'll vacate the building they call home to make way for the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship.

But don't think for a minute the Ottawa Senators will only have a passing interest in what goes on when the planet's finest under-20 teams move onto centre stage at Scotiabank Place. The list of Sens prospects involved in the WJC grows with each passing day, it seems.

Defenceman Erik Karlsson and forward Andre Petersson, both selected by the Senators in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, were named last week to Sweden's roster for the 10-team tournament. Earlier today, USA Hockey announced that centre Jim O'Brien, Ottawa's top selection in the 2007 draft, would be part of its 22-man squad for the WJC.

Ottawa 67's defenceman Tyler Cuma displays the Team Canada jersey he hopes to wear when the IIHF 2009 World Junior Championship is held in Ottawa later this month. The final selection camp runs Dec. 11-15 (Photo by A. Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/Hockey Canada).
Now there's a chance the home side might have some Senators flavour, too. When Hockey Canada made official today the 38-player contingent that it has invited to next week's selection camp in Ottawa, the list included defenceman Patrick Wiercioch. The 18-year-old from Maple Ridge, B.C., was the Senators' second-round pick in its draft class of '08.

To hear Al Murray tell it, Wiercioch wasn't really on Hockey Canada's radar screen back in September, when he began his freshman season at the University of Denver.

"I saw him right at the start of the year and he was not quite ready for the program, if he had just maintained the level that he started the season at," said Murray, Hockey Canada's national team head scout.

But Murray couldn't ignore the 6-foot-3 blueliner when he got a second look at Wiercioch during a recent scouting mission for the Canadian world junior program.

"He's made huge strides in his play," Murray said of Wiercioch, who spent last season with the Omaha Lancers of the U.S. Hockey League. "I think he's more confident. He's a big player, a very good skater and has real good offensive skill but what he's improved is his defensive play. He's got better gaps, he's using his stick more and finishing his checks more.

"I think he's taken the steps that have put him in here that he didn't have at the start of the season. He played his way into the camp."

Also invited to the camp is Ottawa 67's defenceman Tyler Cuma, who'd no doubt love to represent his country in the capital come Christmas time.

"We're all very proud to have the opportunity to play for Team Canada," he said during a media conference at Scotiabank Place earlier today to unveil the selection camp lineup. "It's going to be quite an intense camp coming up in the next week and we're going to come ready.

"Unfortunately, only 22 guys can go (to the WJC) and I hope I'm one of them."

The selection camp runs from Dec. 11-15 in Ottawa, with Red-and-White intrasquad games set for Dec. 12 at Scotiabank Place and Dec. 13 at Robert Guertin Arena in Gatineau. Hockey Canada's coaching staff, headed up by Pat Quinn, will pare the final roster down to 22 for the world juniors. It's a team that will seek to earn Canada a record-tying fifth straight gold medal at the WJC starting Dec. 26, when it faces off against the Czech Republic.

While only four players – John Tavares, P.K. Subban, Thomas Hickey and Zach Boychuk – return from last year's golden group, Murray is confident Canada will ice another strong entry in Ottawa.

"I think we've got great talent," said Murray. "We're real fortunate in that respect and I don't think we're going to take a back seat to any other country when it comes to talent. I don't think we'll take a back seat in speed and we certainly won't be behind them in grit."

The wily Quinn knows exactly what it will take to build a title-worthy squad.

"Ultimately, you want the best team," said Quinn, who guided Canada to gold at the 2008 world under-18 championship. "It's not just about individual skill to pass the puck, skate and stickhandle. It won't necessarily be the most talented guys that (make the team), but it'll be guys with talent that are willing to play a good, strong team game."

With the opening puck drop of the WJC a little more than three weeks away, the buzz around the tournament continues to build. It will be the culmination of a long journey for the Ottawa host organizating committee that can't wait for it all to get started.

"The countdown is on," said Cyril Leeder, co-chair of the Ottawa WJC's host committee. "We're definitely excited and anxious and very much looking forward to hosting our team next week and the world a couple of weeks later."

WJC tickets on sale Saturday

Fewer than 15,000 tickets, including a limited number to Team Canada and medal-round games, remain available for the 2009 Ottawa WJC, which will set an all-time record for tournament attendance. These go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m.

Several mini-packages are also available as well. For further details, click here.

See the full selection camp roster and schedule here.

View a photo gallery from today's news conference here.

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