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Canadian Press
12/25/2006 7:57:47 PM


LEKSAND, Sweden (CP) - The players chosen for Canada's junior men's hockey team began putting on their game faces when their bus left Stockholm on Monday morning.

It was a contemplative group during the four hours it took to travel the rolling, tree-lined highway to Leksand, where Canada opens defence of its back-to-back world junior hockey championships Tuesday against the host Swedes (TSN and TSN Broadband - 12:30pm et/9:30am pt).

''On the bus trip here, everyone could feel it,'' forward Bryan Little said after the team's first practice at Ejendals Arena. ''It was pretty quiet, but I think everyone was getting excited.''

Canada has won the last two tournaments and both of them were held in North America.

The challenge for this team is to win it off-continent, which Canada hasn't done since 1997 in Switzerland.

''It doesn't matter if you are playing two minutes or 22 minutes, every player, we need their best,'' head coach Craig Hartsburg said.

Hartsburg gave Tri-City Americans goaltender Carey Price the nod to start Tuesday against the Swedes in a game that has been sold out for weeks.

The 19-year-old Montreal Canadiens prospect wasn't in net for a 3-2 exhibition loss to the Swedes on Friday in Stockholm, where Canada squandered a two-goal lead. But Price says he learned plenty about the Swedes watching from the bench.

''I saw they were really talented and they can move the puck around really fast,'' he said. ''You've got to watch the back-door plays and be aware out there.''

The Swedes have snipers Nicklas Bergfors, who plays for the New Jersey Devils' AHL team, and Nicklas Backstrom, the highest European drafted this year going fourth overall to Washington.

Expect Canadian defencemen Marc Staal, named the best at his position at the 2006 world junior tournament in Vancouver, and partner Ryan Parent, to see a lot of the Bergfors line. The Swedes also have Calgary Hitmen forward Fredrik Pettersson in their lineup.

Hartsburg felt Canada's sloppy play late in Friday's game was likely due to mental fatigue. The players have had a couple days in Stockholm to rest and buy Christmas presents for each other since then.

Steve Downie, an all-star forward for Canada in Vancouver, fell on the wrong side of the law at the end of the exhibition game with a double minor and a 10-minute misconduct for butt-ending.

Hartsburg said he and the Peterborough Petes forward have discussed the incident.

''We know that he can stay on the right side of that line and he's going to have to,'' Hartsburg said. ''It's very important for our hockey team that we have him on the ice.

''We've got to make sure he's playing that game without crossing that line.''

The line of centre Andrew Cogliano, Downie and Brad Marchand that gelled during selection camp has remained intact heading into the tournament.

The other forward lines at practice Monday had wingers Ryan O'Marra and 17-year-old Sam Gagner flanking Jonathan Toews, Little centring James Neal and Tom Pyatt, and Marc-Andre Cliche rotating wingers Dan Bertram, Darren Helm and Kenndal McArdle.

Canada, Sweden, the U.S., Slovakia and Germany make up Pool A, while Russia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Finland and Belarus are in Pool B.

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