Canada Looking to Three-Peat

Despite winning back to back World Junior Titles, the pressure will be on Team Canada to win yet again. The World’s preminent hockey nation will not accept anything less than gold. With 10 returnees from last year’s gold medal team, there should be plenty of leadership and experience around to help the team get through what is always a difficult tournament.

However Brent Sutter is not back as coach, some key offensive players were ineligible to return and the team may miss goaltender Justin Pogge who let in just 6 goals in 6 games with 3 shutouts last time out. Also, there are some eligible players who are currently in the NHL and doubtful to be made available for this tournament. That list includes Gilbert Brule, Luc Bourdon, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jordan Staal and Guilluame Latendresse. While Team Canada has unmatched depth, it will still hurt not having players of that calibre available. The team will also miss playing near or at home which they enjoyed the last two times out. There is nothing like playing the tournament in Canada and having everyone in the building pulling for you.

Sutter was unbeatable as coach and will be missed. Last year’s squad was relatively error free, was air tight defensively and played with the kind of energy that Sutter provided during his playing career. It will now be up to new coach Craig Hartsburg to instill the same kind of grit and work ethic that made those Sutter coached teams so difficult to play against. The former NHL blueliner was Sutter’s assistant last year so it is expected that the team will play the same tough defensive style. You cant really blame Hartsburg if he went that route, it worked as Sutter was a remarkable 12-0 at this event.

Barring injury 10 spots are guaranteed for the returnees. They include:

Defence

Kris Letang Ryan Parent Marc Staal Kris Russell

Forwards

Steve Downie Ryan O’Marra Tom Pyatt Jonathan Toews Dan Bertram Andrew Cogliano

This means when camp opens December 12th, the battle will be on for the remaining 12 spots on the roster.

The most important position in dispute is in goal. The favorite among the 5 goalies competing for the two jobs is Montreal Canadien Draft pick Carey Price. Cut from last year’s squad, Price probably now knows what it takes to make this team. Though he would be a World Junior rookie, his age and experience in junior hockey could be what the team needs in net. His biggest competition will be from the top goalie picked in the 2006 draft, Jonathan Bernier of the LA Kings. Like most goalies in the Q, he sees plenty of rubber and would be very adept at handling a big workload in a short tournament. Working in his favor is the fact that Team Canada assistant coach Clement Jodoin is also Bernier’s coach in Lewiston. Also in contention is another 2006 first rounder, Leyland Irving of the Calgary Flames. One cannot ignore his numbers this season: 16-2 record, 1.46 GAA, .940 save percentage. Also in contention are Tyler Plante who was a Florida draft pick or Jean Phillipe Lavasseur who was a mid round pick of the Ducks. Both will be longshots to make it unless injuries hit.

With 4 spots set on defence, only 3 spots remain to be filled on the blueline. Canada will have their shutdown pair from last tournament in Marc Staal and Ryan Parent. They were terrific going up against the likes of Evgeny Malkin and Phil Kessel and will be counted on again to face the opposing teams top players shift after shift. They will also be counted upon to provide leadership and get their new teammates to buy into the system. The team lost their two top offensive players on defence with Cam Barker and Bourdon not returning. So the offensive load and running the powerplay will lie with the two Kris’, Kris Letang and Kris Russell. Letang made the Penguins out of camp but was eventually returned to junior. Being a tremendous skater, he should have no trouble moving the puck on the big European ice. Russell is a similar player to Letang. Small in stature, but quick with the puck. He will miss playing with his former Medicine Hat teammate Barker but he’s faring pretty well this year: 33 points in 28 games.

The choice on the last 3 spots will be more than difficult to make. There are many very good defencemen to choose from. While there may not be a big name standout among the group, the quality is there. Perhaps the most well known of the contenders are potential 2007 top picks Keaton Ellerby and Kyle Alzner. While doubtful that both will make this team, they will gain valuable experience at camp which they can take into next year.

One of the favorites to win a spot on defence is 2006 first round pick Ty Wishart of the San Jose Sharks. He’s big as in 6’5 big and is strong in his own end. Canada will probably want a player of his kind on a team that will preach defense first. Also, they could use a player with size to perhaps play with either Letang or Russell who are smallish players. Wishart will face some competition in terms of providing a stay-at-home presence from the likes of Cody Franson, Scott Jackson, John DeGray and Ellerby.

There will be no shortage of offensive blueliners to choose from. One of the favorites will be Marc-Andre Gragnani. The Buffalo Sabres draft pick was very good for the U-18 team in 2005 and had a good training camp in Buffalo this fall. The team will need good puck movers like Gragnani on the big ice. Battling Gragnani will be the likes of Dustin Kohn, Patrick McNeil, Ben Shutron and Alzner.

With an excellent top 4 defence, the key will be to find solid team players who can fill roles and provide depth.

Up front, 7 spots are up for grabs and there is some real good talent out there looking to win a job on this team. Scoring depth is an area that will need to be addressed. Canada will have its fair share of role forwards. The likes of O’Marra, Pyatt, Bertram were 4th line energy guys last tournament and now will need to step up their play and take on the checking assignments against the World’s best junior players. Last year players like Downie, Kyle Chipchura and Blake Comeau did great work shutting down opponents. Downie was a key impact player last year but will have a greater role this time in terms of leadership, offence and experience. He can be an emotional guy and will need to make sure he channels things positively.

With Bertram, O’Marra and Pyatt taking on more responsibility, look for Canada to find a new batch of energetic players to work the 4th line. The likes of Kendell McArdle, Cody Bass, Chris Stewart are physical players willing to take the body and play that hard working game that is fitting for the 4th unit that Canada likes to put together.

Offensively the team will miss the skill of Benoit Pouliot, Michael Blunden and Dustin Boyd. So the team will need to find help for Cogliano and Toews who are arguably the team’s two most dangerous forwards. Cogliano was a bit player last year as Sutter wanted a more defensive presence on the ice at all times. But given the big ice, Cogliano should thrive with his great speed. He’s one of the returnees so he’ll be required to provide big offence. Toews will probably centre their top line and be the team’s go to guy. His combination of size, speed and skill is difficult to match. Who he plays with is anyone’s guess, but it looks like Toews, Cogliano and Downie have sewn up 3 spots among the top two lines.

The battle will be tight as to who will be added to provide offence. They have power forwards like James Neal or James Sheppard to choose from. There’s small but speedy forwards such as Devin Setoguchi, Daniel Ryder and Bryan Little that certainly could be dangerous on the big ice. And there’s pure skill in the form of Derrick Brassard and Claude Giroux that could make an impact. Potentially a player like 2007, draft eligible, Zach Hamill could be this year’s Jonathan Toews could make the team and improve his draft stock with a productive tournament.

The embarassment of riches Canada enjoys seems unfair to the other nations. B
ut still, a hard fought tournament will be expected again this time around. The Czechs will be dangerous with Michal Frolik and Jiri Tlusty in their lineup. The Swedes have a world class talent in Niklas Backstrom leading their team. The Americans will be a major force with 2006 top pick Erik Johnson on defence and a host of strong forwards like Peter Meuller, Kyle Okposo and Jack Skille in their lineup. And the Finns may have the best goalie in the tournament in Riku Helenius who could follow in fellow Finn Tukka Rask’s footsteps as tournament MVP. And never ever count out the Russians even though they are in a bit of a transition stage.

There are few who can match Canada’s depth, skill, experience and heart. All that will be required is for the team to be able to develop strong chemistry quickly and get accustomed to the system put in place by the coaching staff. Easier said than done with such a short time to gel. But year after year Canada seems to churn out a very competitive team and this year will be no different. The players going over are not asked for much, just Gold or else.


12 Responses to Canada Looking to Three-Peat

  1. papichulo71 says:

    I can't wait.  To me this is the most exciting hockey of the year outside the first round of the playoffs.

  2. ThomasHawks says:

    What about Luc Bourdon.Hes back with Moncton.I can see him play with Letang like they use to do in Val D'or

  3. muckies says:

    NICE WORK, giving the WJC the respect and coverage they deserve. The US has such a good team as well this year and Canada will be in tough, but with Price in net, I think Canada will have the advantage (assuming he starts). He looked real good in Montreal's camp this pre-season, and Steve Downie what a Rat, these two players will be two that put Canada over the top I think – playoff hockey at Christmas ain't nothing better

  4. ThomasHawks says:

    Hockey Canada has inquired about the availability of Montreal Canadiens forward Guillaume Latendresse, Pittsburgh Penguins centre Jordan Staal and San Jose Sharks defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Blue Jackets were not asked for 19-year-old Brule.

  5. nordiques100 says:

    you're right he is. i wasnt quite sure of his availability as i was writing this. he would be a major contributor if on this team. his first half of hte season was wasted a bit in Vancouver in the press box or getting 8 minutes a game.

  6. Habroller says:

    Could you provide a reference? Interesting info…

  7. nordiques100 says:

    Its actually the lead article on TSN.ca. because those 3 guys are getting major minutes, i doubt they will be released for the tourney. getting one of them would be a huge boost. I just learned about bourdon being available now that he is back in the Q and that will help the team big time.

    Brule has probably hurt his chances of ever representing Canada. Hockey Canada usually remembers when you turned them down.

  8. Danucks says:

    You also failed to mention Angelo Esposito who will no doubt be a huge hit at the tournament. I think Mathiue Calre will also make the team or should be given a good chance anyways. Good Work though.

  9. habs_punk says:

    It'll be interesting to see which young players make the team. Esposito's gotta have an excellent shot at making it. Sam Gagner from the London Knights will hopefully get a good long look. But the player I'm wondering most about is John Tavares. He's only 16 years old, will he get a chance to make the team?

  10. 92-93 says:

    hey Nords, great article.

    The Swedes will definitely have Rask in net and that's going to hurt to watch as a leafs fan.

    And what an amazing year Irving is having out in the WHL. this kid is amazing and the Flames have an amazing prospect on their hands that should develop just in time for them.

    unlike other people, i dont really see the big deal about Price but if he starts for the Canadians, of course i hope he proves me wrong. I wasnt that impressed by his training camp – or more specifically, the games he played against the Leafs' rookie squad. And I still cannot get over the fact that the Habs picked this guy up 5th overall in front of Brule, Bourdon, Staal, Kopitar, Rask, etc. (i know, hindsight is 20-20, but i seem to remember a lot of people and commentators being baffled by this pick).

    in any case, if you look at the stats between Reimer (picked 99th overall) and Price in the WHL, there's not much of a difference (however, i do understand that stats dont tell the whole story and Reimer is not at the level of Price right now):

    ————GP—-Shots—-GA——GAA——Sv%—–SO——Rec
    Reimer——22——648——–57——–2.77——.912———0——–11-6-3
    Price———17——490——–47——–2.81——.904———1——–10-6-0

  11. Yann says:

    Correction : The Finns will have Rask…

  12. 92-93 says:

    right. sorry about that.

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