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Canadian Press
Dec 3, 2006, 12:44 PM EST


(CP) - Defence is still the key to gold for the Canadian junior men's hockey team.

Hockey Canada will invite about 34 players to try out for the team and will announce the names at news conferences in Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal on Monday.

While head coach Craig Hartsburg and head scout Jim Hammett are looking for a complete package that includes a game-stealing goalie and creative, skilled forwards, what will stands out on this team is the defencemen.

Selection camp starts Sunday at Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary and 22 players will be chosen Dec. 15 to defend the gold starting Dec. 26 in Leksand, Sweden.

Five defencemen return from the lineup that produced the most dominant defensive performance by a Canadian team at a world junior tournament. Canada allowed only six goals in six games - one at even strength - and averaged 21 shots against a game en route to gold at the 2006 world championships in Vancouver.

With no incumbent goalie again, and with questions as to who will score for Canada team at the 2007 tournament, the defence is the surest aspect of this team heading into the selection camp.

Sudbury Wolves defenceman Marc Staal was named the top defenceman in Vancouver and heavy-hitting Luc Bourdon of the Moncton Wildcats was an all-star. They return to anchor a blue-line that includes veterans Kristopher Letang of the Val-d'Or Foreurs, Ryan Parent of the Guelph Storm and Kris Russell of the Medicine Hat Tigers.

"Anytime you can get five guys returning and that many guys who have had the experience, I consider that very valuable," Hammett said. "We're really happy with our back end and with the potential guys coming in to challenge for a spot."

Seven players will be vying for two open spots on the defence. Karl Alzner of the Calgary Hitmen, Cody Franson of the Vancouver Giants, John de Gray of the Brampton Battalion, Marc-Andre Gragnani of the P.E.I. Rocket and Patrick McNeill of the Saginaw Spirit are among possible invitees.

Guelph defenceman Drew Doughty has made a case for an invitation with his exceptional play for the Canadian under-18 team last summer and for the Storm so far in this his sophomore season, but Doughty doesn't turn 17 until Friday.

"If you want to take a young guy, you've seen in the past, they haven't had a lot of success," Hammett said. "They haven't been overly productive in this tournament because it is a 19-year-old's tournament.

"Whether you bring a young guy as your 13th forward or your seventh defencemen, they have to produce."

Of the four goaltenders who will be at camp, Jonathan Bernier of the Lewiston Maineiacs and Leland Irving of the Everett Silvertips are virtual locks for invitations, based on their success at the international under-18 level and their play with their respective club teams to date. The starter's job is wide open - as it has been the last two selection camps.

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I think Canada is going to have a pretty good team this year. There's going to be a lot of returning players from last year so that's a bonus.

Steve Downie (Peterborough)Ryan O'Marra (Erie),Tom Pyatt (Saginaw)
I found an error lol Ryan O'Marra doesn't play on Erie anymore he plays for Saginaw. Just thought I would mention it lol
 
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