December 2, 2011

December Means World Juniors

Well the calendar turned over to December and that means Santa Claus is putting the finishing touches on his preparations for the big day, so to are the 10 teams participating in this years World Under 20 Hockey Championships held in Edmonton and Calgary beginning on Boxing Day.

The 2 finalist from last year's event in Buffalo released their final selection camp rosters on Monday. Russia invited 28 players to their camp which runs December 7-18. Yevgeni Kuznetsov, from Traktor Chelyabinsk, headlines the players invited to the camp in Russia. Kuznetsov currently has 22 points in 28 games for his KHL club. Team Russia leaves for Canada on December 18th and will be joined by players, yet to be named, who are currently playing in the CHL. Of the expected players to be invited Sarnia Sting's (OHL) Nail Yakupov and Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) Mikhail Grigorenko, stand the best chance to make the squad. Both players are currently among the league leaders in points with 46 each.

Canada looks to avenge its gold medal loss to the Russians as they open their final selection camp on December 10th in Calgary. As always at this time of year it is not so much about who is in camp for team Canada but which players are not. There are several candidates who find themselves with full time employment in the NHL and will most likely not be released. Ryan Nugent Hopkins leads that list. The leading rookie scorer is cruising at a point a game pace for the Edmonton Oilers and will most definitely be staying put as are other rookies Sean Couturier of Philadelphia and Ryan Johansen of Columbus. Second year stars like Tyler Seguin (Boston) and Jeff Skinner (Carolina) are off to great starts this season and it would be a pipe dream to see them on the Canadian roster.

Of the eligible NHL players who might be released to Hockey Canada, Anaheim's Devante Smith Pelley and Montreal Canadiens Michael Bournival are the best bets. Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay) and Erik Gudbranson (Florida) are possibilities but their play to date says otherwise.

Of the 41 players who were invited to camp, 2 of them just hope to be healthy enough to participate in the 3 exhibition games beginning December 19th. Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs is as close to a guarantee as you can get to make the team, that is if his fractured foot heals in time. Huberdeau is still about 2 weeks away. Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray has been skating the last 10 days or so but is still recovering from a high ankle sprain. Murray is not expected to play before the evaluation camp.

Canada has 3 returning players from 2011. Mark Visentin is 1 of 4 goaltenders and the other 2 are forwards Jaden Schwartz and Quinton Howden. The defence will most likely feature all new players and look to Brandon Gormley of the Moncton Wildcats and Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers to be the front runners for spots. Some of the notable forwards that will take to the ice are Mark Schiefle of the Barrie Colts. Schiefle had an extended training camp with the Winnipeg Jets before being returned to the OHL. Another Barrie Colt, Tanner Pearson is tearing up the OHL this season and leading the league in scoring with 57 points in 26 games. Pearson is draft eligible in 2012. Another pair of Saint John Seadogs worth keeping and eye on are Zack Phillips and Nathan Beaulieu. Both are having good seasons for the defending Memorial Cup Champs. WHL scoring leader Mark Stone has been invited as well. Stone has 60 points in 29 games for his Brandon Wheat Kings.

The bronze medallist from 2011, USA, will release their preliminary roster on Monday Dec 5th at 5:30pm EST on the NHL Network.

- Mike Lord

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