Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Scheifele to play vs. Russians

Suiting up for Canada in August's four-game challenge series

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HE'S been a rival for two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League but suddenly Steve Spott will be playing both sides of the fence.

Spott, the head coach of the Kitchener Rangers, was recently named head coach of Team Canada for next winter's World Junior Hockey Championship.

And there's a very good chance he'll have centre Mark Scheifele on his roster.

He'll certainly have the 2011 first-round pick of the NHL's Winnipeg Jets in his lineup in August when Team Canada, in lieu of a summer development camp, will assemble 28 of the country's elite juniors and play a four-game challenge series against Russia.

Rivals -- Scheifele, the Kitchener native, is the top centre for the OHL's Barrie Colts -- are now on the same side.

"I'm with Mark every day right now in Kitchener," Spott told the Free Press over the weekend in Pittsburgh, where he attended the NHL's entry draft. "He's skating with us right now, just talked to him (last Thursday)."

Spott has observed a blossoming young player rack up 138 points in 113 OHL games over his first two OHL seasons.

It's unknown if Scheifele will come to camp with the Jets this fall and stick in the NHL. The issue, Spott said, will be strength.

"The challenge for Mark right now is very simple, it's physical strength," Team Canada's coach said. "It has nothing to do with hockey sense, with hands or with compete. For me, it's sheer physical strength and it's going to come.

"His level of hockey sense is incredible. When you look at the potential of (Ivan) Telegin (also of the Colts and also a Jets draft pick) and Scheifele, what an intriguing group of forwards that combine not only size but world-class skill, and from what I've been told on Telegin, he's a great kid, too.

"For me, the scouts who have identified those kids have done a great job."

Spott is aware that should Scheifele be playing in the NHL, the decision to have him in the World Junior will be out of his hands. But he does claim to know one thing about the future.

"I know Mark personally and I feel he's going to be very big part of the Winnipeg system for a long time," Spott said.

As well as Scheifele, the Team Canada coach will have two other Winnipeg-connected players in the Canada-Russia Challenge Series in August.

Also on his roster are Lukas Sutter of the Saskatoon Blades, a second-round pick of the Jets last weekend, and Brendan Leipsic, the Winnipegger who was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round of the draft. Leipsic plays for the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2012 C4

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