|Senators forward prospect Stefan Noesen of Team USA celebrates a goal against Finland on Wednesday at the U.S. junior team's summer development camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).
The road to the 2013 world juniors begins now.
Whether it's across the pond in Russia or at a summer showdown just south of the border, opportunity awaits players from five countries this week as each begins preparations for the latest installment of the IIHF World Hockey Championship, which is set for Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia.
Among that group are a quartet of Ottawa Senators prospects. Defenceman Cody Ceci, the club's top pick (15th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, is among Hockey Canada's invites for the Canada-Russia Challenge, which begins Thursday in Yaroslavl, Russia (11 a.m., TSN2) and continues there on Friday (10 a.m., TSN2). Then the series shifts to Halifax for a pair of games next Monday and Tuesday (both 7 p.m., TSN).
Meanwhile, squads from Sweden and Finland are participating in USA Hockey's national junior evaluation camp, which runs through Saturday in Lake Placid, N.Y. The Swedes rolled past the Finns 8-2 on Tuesday in the opener of a round-robin series of games at the Herb Brooks Arena, with the latter also falling to the U.S. 5-2 today.
Sweden boasts seven returnees from the team that won the 2012 world juniors back in January in Alberta, ending a 31-year title drought for the Tre Kronor at the tournament. Most notable among that group: Senators 2011 first-rounder (sixth overall) Mika Zibanejad, whose overtime goal against Russia gave the Swedes a 1-0 triumph in the gold-medal game and made him a national hero.
The camp roster for Sweden in Lake Placid also includes another Sens prospect, defenceman Mikael Wikstrand, a seventh-round pick (196th overall) at the 2012 draft in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Team USA's evaluation camp roster — after a cutdown today — includes Senators forward prospect Stefan Noesen, another Senators 2011 first-rounder (21st overall). While the native of Plano, Tex., was disappointed to not make the U.S. team a year ago, he appears to have gained a prominent role early on in the eyes of Team USA coach Phil Housley.
Heading into today's contest with Finland, Noesen found himself on the first line with Minnesota Wild prospect Mario Lucia and Sean Kuraly, a San Jose Sharks hopeful. During a split-squad game against Finland on Monday, the trio combined for four goals and three assists.
"I thought they played terrific away from the puck," Housley told NHL.com. "A lot of their chances came off good defensive plays that had back pressure, or making the nice little play on the wall and following up the play."
That roll continued earlier today, when Noesen picked up a goal and assist in the win over Finland.
The U.S. faces Sweden on Thursday at 4 p.m., then the Finns and Swedes meet again on Friday at 4 p.m. before the tourney closes out with a USA-Finland matchup on Saturday at 1 p.m.