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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Continued lockout means stronger junior team

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THE Canadian junior hockey team's selection camp roster to be announced Monday was constructed with the NHL lockout in mind.

Hockey Canada would have limited the number of players invited to 28 if the NHL lockout was certain to continue into January. Having all of the country's top 18- and 19-year-old players at camp makes decisions simpler.

But the uncertainty over when the lockout will end, and how a sudden conclusion would impact the Canadian team, means between 35 and 40 players will be summoned to selection camp Dec. 10-15 in Calgary.

The Canadian team will be named Dec. 13 and departs for pre-competition camp in Finland two days later. The 2013 world junior hockey championship opens Dec. 26 and closes Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia.

The extra players at camp will be insurance, should the NHL lockout end later this month and clubs quickly call their top teenagers to their training camps.

"We're bringing extra bodies right now," Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast says. "We just don't want to be scrambling on the 15th of December saying we've got to get 10 players in here right now."

The NHL has cancelled its games until Dec. 14. The league and the players' entered into mediation this week, but no progress was made towards ending the labour impasse.

All countries submit their world junior tournament rosters to the International Ice Hockey Federation on Dec. 25, which allows for the addition of players should some be lost to the NHL in the days prior to the tournament.

That's a nightmare scenario, however, for a Canadian team trying to develop chemistry and cohesion in the few days it has to prepare, while ferrying players back and forth across the Atlantic.

"Anything that's going to change is out of our control," Hockey Canada's senior director of operations Scott Salmond says. "As camp goes on, I think we'll have a pretty good feeling hopefully by the 13th that we'll be able to name the 23 players who will go to our camp in Finland and those will be the guys we stick with.

"Is there a Plan B? Sure we've talked about it and thought about it. Things would really have to change for that to kick in."

Salmond says 23 players will be named to the team instead of the usual 22 because Canada will take a third goaltender -- an alternate -- to the tournament.

That's not about the NHL lockout, but because of the travel required to get a goaltender to central Russia in the event of a injury to one of the two goalies named to the squad.

"If something happens to one of our goaltenders, we'd never get a goalie in there in time," Prendergast explained. "He's going to be told going over, 'You're the third goaltender. The only way you're going to get to play is if one of the other two get hurt."'

IIHF rules allows a goaltender to be added to a country's roster during the tournament if one gets injured, but the same isn't permitted at forward or defence.

At this point, the lockout means Canadian head coach Steve Spott and his assistants will have almost all of Canada's best players born in 1993 and 1994 at selection camp.

That's rare as a handful are often lost to the NHL. Canada dominated the 2005 world junior hockey championships en route to gold in Grand Forks, N.D., during the last NHL lockout. Canada also won gold in 1995 in Red Deer, Alta., during a lockout-shortened season.

Injured defenceman Ryan Murray will not be at this year's camp and the status of centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is unclear. An Edmonton Oilers spokesman has said general manager Steve Tambellini will discuss the prospect of playing for Canada with Nugent-Hopkins this weekend in Houston.

Nugent-Hopkins, 19, was assigned to the American Hockey League's Oklahoma City Barons prior to the lockout and the Barons are in Houston this weekend.

Hockey Canada's policy is that a player must participate in selection camp to play for Canada at the world junior hockey championships. Prendergast would like an answer from the Oilers by Monday so that Spott can plan selection camp with Nugent-Hopkins in it or out of it.

"We'd want to know," Prendergast said. "If Nugent-Hopkins comes, he'll be our best player."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2012 C2

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