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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Canada Goes With Skill Over Grit for WJC

After 3 straight years with disappointing bronze and silver medals at the World Junior tournament team Canada has re-tooled for the 2013 tournament, choosing skill and speed over the usual grit. In doing so Canada will ice 3 scoring lines and 1 checking line up front, in addition the top defencive pairing featuring Dougie Hamilton and Morgan Rielly will also be offencive minded. The goal is simple for the red and white, win gold.

Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins  has been named captain of team Canada, despite this being his first time competing at the World Juniors. While theres no question the NHL star has all the skill required to lead this team, his lack of experience at the tournament may have had him better suited to wear the A instead. Never the less this is Nugent-Hopkins team, he will be the first line centre accompanied by Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Scheifele and look to earn Canada their first gold medal since 2009. This will be the go-to line and will be expected to lead this team by example, scoring goals and playing defence.

In a surprising decision 2 of the 3 17 year-olds invited to camp earned a spot on the final squad. The chemistry shown at camp between Halifax Mooseheads linemates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin is likely the reason they were both included and beat out older and in some cases already drafted players. It's a strange move putting two 17 year-olds on a roster full of older, stronger 19 year-olds but with the talent the youngsters posses it would be a shame to have passed them by. It was less surprising for most that projected first overall pick MacKinnon cracked the roster  as many are touting him to be the best young player since Sidney Crosby, the only 17 year-old to make the team in 2005. But the inclusion of the unproven Drouin raised a few eyebrows, how will he fair if and when he is separated from his teammate? The youngsters will likely play in the bottom 6 forwards with JC Lipon, a spot usually reserved for the grittier and tougher guys.

Canada's second forward line will also be filled with immense scoring talent with Ryan Strome and Brett Ritchie two natural goal scorers who are lighting it up in the OHL. Don't be surprised to see Ritchie mix things up with opponents and be the "tough" guy for the red and white.

Similar to the forwards the defencemen are filled with versatility and are not afraid to join the rush. The only real "shutdown" pair are Scott Harrington and Xavier Ouellet who play a more defencive minded game and will be the go to guys during a penalty kill. Bruins prospect Hamilton who was virtually robbed of wearing a C/A will lead the defenceman and be a fantastic partner for Leafs defenceman Rielly. Also on defence will be Ryan Murphy who finally cracked the squad on his third attempt. After being cut the last 2 years, Murphy said he needed to stick to his game in order to make the team. Look for him to play with a chip on his shoulder and turn into one of the leaders of this team, not to mention his feel good story of finally making the squad.

Once again the only unclear position for Canada is goaltending. Canada has not had a clear cut number one netminder since the days of Carey Price and it's cost them their gold medal in the last couple tournaments. When a team scores 5 goals but their netminder lets in 6, it's a deflating feeling and no way to win a tournament. Going into selection camp Malcolm Subban was slated to carry the job but after a less than impressive camp which saw him land last on most scouting reports, it will be interesting to see if he still has the number 1 spot locked up. After cutting arguably the best goalie in camp Laurent Brossoit of the WHL for Jordan Binnington of the OHL, the goaltending situation is a little less clear. As of now it would be hard to start anyone but Subban who was taken in the first round by the Bruins and is arguably the most developed netminder, but if things go south for Subban look for Binnington to take over the lead role. None of these goalies have a had chance to play in something this big, only time will tell if they buckle under the pressure.

One player to keep an eye on is Lipon who will likely see time on the 3rd line with the youngsters. Lipon has flown completely under the radar and is a un-drafted player, but hockey Canada must have seen something special in his game. One thing the World Junior tournament is famous for is the coming out parties of many undiscovered solid young players. Look for Lipon to make a name for himself and show teams he's worthy of being drafted as an over age player next season.

All in all Canada has assembled a solid team that will light up the score board, the only question is

goaltending. As much as this pains me to say, I don't think this team is good enough to bring back the gold, I just don't. Sure on paper they look good, but Canada has had a lot of "good" teams on paper before. The offensive minded players they've put together need to remember to play in both ends and will need to find some chemistry in a hurry. Getting past Russia will be no easy task, especially when their main goal is to beat Canada.

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