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Canadian Press
Dec 10, 2006, 7:44 PM EST


CALGARY (CP) - The players invited to try out for Canada's junior hockey team stepped off the plane Sunday with distinct lack of hair.

No running around frantically trying to find a barber on a Sunday night, as was the case on the first day of selection camp last year in Vancouver.

They'd been warned.

"That was probably the first thing they told us. Freshly shaved and hair cut," said a shorn Luc Bourdon.

They're in head coach Craig Hartsburg's army now, but his demands are similar to predecessor Brent Sutter: get with the program and do it quickly if you want to play for your country in the world junior hockey championship.

"It's important these kids come here focused on doing the right things on and off the ice," Hartsburg said. "We want to look like we respect our country and we respect what we're trying to do here."

Selection camp opened Sunday with four goalies, 12 defencemen and 22 forwards scheduled to get on the ice at Father David Bauer Arena in the evening.

Two goalies, seven defencemen and 13 forwards will be named Friday to the team chasing Canada's third straight gold medal at the tournament.

Canada opens defence of its title Dec. 26 in Leksand, Sweden, against the host country.

The International Ice Hockey Federation's under-20 championship is a showcase of a country's best players aged 19 and younger.

Hartsburg is the head coach of the Sudbury Wolves and steps to the helm of the Canadian team after serving as Sutter's assistant for the 2006 tournament in Vancouver.

The two C's - character and chemistry - are at the top of his wish list because this tournament will not be at home as it was in Vancouver or in the home-like environment of Grand Forks, N.D., in 2005.

"We need a group of kids who can self-start themselves because we can't rely on the crowd or the atmosphere to get us going," Hartsburg said. "It's got to be pride in what we're doing and who we are over there to push us to our goals."

London Knights forward Sam Gagner and goaltender Steve Mason played three games in three nights before hopping a plane to Alberta and others invited were also coming off hectic schedules with their club teams.

But they'll get no breaks this week. The players will be on the ice twice a day for practices and games, which will help winnow out anyone who can't stand up to the rigours of a short, intense tournament, Hartsburg said.

"We've got to find people who are going to battle through some of this," he said. "We've got to find the right group that's going to fight through some adversity."

Hartsburg plans to keep all 38 players at camp until Friday, unless they separate themselves sooner than that.

"There's a chance we'll recognize earlier than Friday that some players aren't going to be part of it," he said. "As of right now, there's no plan to do that unless it shakes itself out."

No NHL players will be at this selection camp, but Canada has 11 players eligible to return from the team that won gold in Vancouver.

A veteran would have to have a poor camp to lose his spot to a newcomer, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities. Olivier Michaud was a goaltender for Canada in 2002 and he didn't even get invited back to selection camp the following year.

There will be some interesting battles at forward at this camp. Even with six eligible to return, Hartsburg invited 22 forwards and six of them are 18 years old or younger.

"Everyone knows there's no guarantees," forward Ryan O'Marra said.

John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals wants to be in the same company as NHLers Sidney Crosby, Jason Spezza and Eric Lindros as players who have represented their country at 16 in the world junior tournament.

"It would be awesome to do it at 16," he said. "Not too many people have done it. It would be a great honour and a great accomplishment for myself."

Canada will be back on international ice in Sweden - over four metres wider than North American rinks - so speed, agility and smart positioning will be required to defend. Speed, skill and creativity to exploit the extra room on offence will also be required.

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