OTTAWA - In choosing his team for the 2009 world junior hockey championship, Canadian coach Pat Quinn has opted for skill and speed up front, a bruising blue-line and a touch of experience with four returning players.
There's a lack of heavyweight forwards on the Canadian team named Monday, with the exception of hard-nosed centre Patrice Cormier of the Rimouski Oceanic, so it'll be up to a few big defenceman to provide the fireworks on Canada's half of the ice.
"We have quickness,'' Quinn said. "If we place the puck properly we can still get pressure where we want.
"As far as smoking somebody, maybe we don't have that player, but we'll finish the checks off. We'll win the battle for the puck and that to me, is what it's all about."
The Canadians are accustomed to North American rinks, which are narrower and have less room to manoeuvre behind the goal-line than European surfaces.
Teams that can play a physical but disciplined brand of hockey and force turnovers into a speedy transition game will have the upper hand in Ottawa. Forechecking will be key for Canada's forwards.
Quinn intends to make one trio of forwards a checking line and Cormier is a candidate to centre it.
Where Canada can dish out the most punishment is behind their own blue-line. Keith Aulie of the Brandon Wheat Kings is six foot six, Tyler Myers of the Kelowna Rockets is almost six foot eight and the Niagara IceDogs' Alex Pietrangelo is six foot two. All three weigh in over 200 pounds.
While Thomas Hickey of the Seattle Thunderbirds isn't as big, he's positionally airtight and difficult to beat. When exuberant P.K. Subban of the Belleville Bulls channels his energy, his 206-pound frame can do a lot of damage.
Hickey, Subban, forwards John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals and forward Zach Boychuk of the Lethbridge Hurricanes are the four returning players from the team that won a fourth consecutive gold medal for Canada at the 2008 world junior hockey championship.
Hickey was named captain Monday. The three other veterans, plus 18-year-old forward Cody Hodgson of the Brampton Battalion, will be assistant captains.
Tri-City Americans goaltender Chet Pickard and Spokane's Dustin Tokarski may have gained the two netminding spots on the team during selection camp, but Part 2 of the competition between them is for the starter's job. Neither got a firm grip on the No. 1 spot during camp.
Canada has three exhibition games on their schedule starting Friday versus tournament co-favourite Sweden at Toronto's Air Canada Centre.
Those games will at least decide who Canada's starter is for the tournament-opener Dec. 26 versus the Czech Republic.
"During exhibition games they'll each get one (game) to play with and then we'll start to see if we can focus in," Quinn said. ``I would prefer to have one to go with, but it may not be the case and we'll just play it by ear.
"I've learned in the past that you don't make statements before the tournament about how you want to play your goalies because it changes."
Tavares emerged from selection camp as Canada's primary goal producer. Kelowna's Jamie Benn, Barrie's Stefan Della Rovere, Regina's Jordan Eberle and Medicine Hat's Tyler Ennis also demonstrated scoring flair.
Angelo Esposito of the Montreal Junior made the Canadian roster on his fourth try. He may play wing instead of his normal position at centre and says he's ready to battle along the boards and in the corners for the puck.
"I came into camp a stronger, faster player," Esposito said. "I knew what I had to do to make this team."
Quinn made the unusual decision to go with eight defencemen and 12 forwards, instead of the more traditional seven and 13.
He wants 17-year-old defenceman Ryan Ellis to reprise the role he played so well in helping Canada win this year's world under-18 championship, which was running the power play.
But Quinn also wanted to retain depth of experience on the blue-line and use the young Windsor Spitfire only on the power play.
"If we have an injury problem and try and move him up, he's a young guy and still working on his five-on-five game," Quinn explained. "What kind of a box would we be in if that happened?
"We thought we should protect ourselves in that case and that's why the eight. We would ordinarily have liked to have a 13th forward and a pretty good player got let go because of that decision being made. I don't know if we're right, but it is what it is."
Ellis is the first 17-year-old defenceman to play for the Canadian junior team since Jay Bouwmeester, currently with the NHL's Florida Panthers, in 2001.
"It's an incredible feeling right now," Ellis said. "To be mentioned like that with names like Jay Bouwmeester is just a whole other level."
Quinn painted his own team as somewhat of an underdog Monday with Sweden, Russia, and the U.S. the main challengers to Canada's bid for a fifth straight gold medal.
"We're probably not ranked at the top," he said. "We'll be favourites here simply because we're Canada and we're expected to win all the time.
"Among the hockey people, I don't think on a talent basis we'll be rated above the top. Our goal is to be the best hockey team and maybe the best ever that Canada has put out there, and I mean team.
"You could argue about skills this year or that year, just like you could Muhammad Ali versus George Chuvalo, but our intention is to win a gold medal and all the other stuff doesn't mean a darn thing right now."
Notes: Ten players were drafted in the first round of the NHL draft in either 2007 or '08 . . . Hickey and Pietrangelo are the highest draft picks, going fourth overall to Los Angeles and St. Louis in 2007 and '08 respectively . . . Tavares and Ellis are eligible for the 2009 draft . . . The Western Hockey League has the most players on the team with 12, followed by six from the Ontario Hockey League, three from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and one from the college ranks.
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