Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - ERIC FRAN­CIS

The puck won’t drop at the world ju­niors for al­most three weeks, but Canada and the U.S. are al­ready neck and neck. Shocker. One day af­ter the Amer­i­can side an­nounced it will have seven players back from its 2017 gold medal-win­ning squad, Hockey Canada re­vealed Wed­nes­day it will have the same num­ber of re­turnees at this year’s IIHF un­der-20 tour­na­ment.

It sets up yet an­other fas­ci­nat­ing show­down be­tween ri­vals, who met in last year’s thrilling fi­nal in Mon­treal, where the U.S. won 5-4 thanks to a goal from Troy Terry, the sixth player in an epic shootout.

“We’re for­tu­nate we’ve got a good core of re­turnees,” Hockey Canada pres­i­dent and COO Scott Smith said af­ter un­veil­ing the 32 players in­vited to next week’s se­lec­tion camp in St. Catharines, Ont. “Hav­ing them back af­ter what they went through last year will be some­thing our team will learn from.”

Canada’s fi­nal 22-man ros­ter will be an­nounced Dec. 15.

Two pre-tour­na­ment games in On­tario — Lon­don (Dec. 20) and Hamil­ton (Dec. 22) — will fol­low, with the tour­ney run­ning Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Buf­falo.

The mar­quee game will be a Dec. 29 af­ter­noon tilt be­tween Canada and the U.S. played out­doors at New Era Field, home of the NFL’s Buf­falo Bills.

Canada’s strength prom­ises to be goal­tend­ing, led by re­turn­ing starter Carter Hart of the Everett Sil­ver­tips. Hart, 19, is pac­ing all WHL goalies in goals-against av­er­age, post­ing a sparkling 1.46 GAA through 14 starts.

With three other net­min­ders in­vited to camp — Michael DiPi­etro (OHL Wind­sor), Sa­muel Har­vey (QMJHL Rouyn-No­randa) and Colton Point (NCAA Col­gate) — of­fi­cials sug­gest Canada hasn’t had such goalie depth in years.

“We don’t bring four goal­tenders to camp a lot, but when we dis­cussed it I don’t think they gave us much choice,” Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen said. “They’re all play­ing very well. His­tory says that for teams that do well in the tour­na­ment, goal­tend­ing is a big part of it.”

Canada’s blue-line is armed with ex­pe­ri­ence as Jake Bean (WHL Cal­gary), Kale Clague (WHL Brandon) and Dante Fab­bro (NCAA Bos­ton U) are re­turn­ing. Cale Makar (NCAA UMassAmherst), se­lected fourth over­all by Colorado last year, Win­nipeg Jets first-rounder Lo­gan Stan­ley (OHL Kitch­ener), and Adam Foote’s son Cal (WHL Kelowna) also nabbed invites.

Cal­gary Flames draft pick Dil­lon Dube (WHL Kelowna), Michael McLeod (OHL Mis­sis­sauga) and Tay­lor Rad­dysh (OHL Erie) are the re­turn­ing for­wards.

Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors picks Alex For­men­ton (OHL Lon­don) and Drake Bather­son (QMJHL Cape Bre­ton), as well as Van­cou­ver Canucks se­lec­tions Jonah Gad­jovich (OHL Owen Sound) and Kole Lind (WHL Kelowna), will also be in camp, which starts Tues­day.

Syl­van Lake, Alta., star Tyler Steen­ber­gen (WHL Swift Cur­rent), who has 35 goals and 61 points in 27 games, will also be at camp.

“I think our strength is depth,” McEwen said of a team that will be coached by Do­minique Ducharme (QMJHL Drum­mondville) again. “We prob­a­bly don’t have a gen­er­a­tional-type player, but we have a real good team. I think we can bring of­fence from deeper in our lineup and I think in this event that’s the key thing be­cause it’s hard for your top guys to al­ways pro­duce be­cause of the qual­ity op­po­si­tion.”

OHL lead­ing scorer Jor­dan Ky­rou, of Sar­nia, will also be part of Canada’s camp, as will WHL player of the year Sam Steel, of Regina, who was cut last year.

One no­table player left off the in­vite list was Owen Tip­pett, the 10th over­all pick this sum­mer who started the sea­son with the Florida Panthers be­fore be­ing re­turned to the Mis­sis­sauga Steel­heads af­ter seven games.

Canada has claimed world ju­nior gold only once in the last eight hol­i­day sea­sons (2015), a span that has seen five dif­fer­ent win­ners, in­clud­ing three tri­umphs by the U.S. Be­fore that, Canada won five in a row.

“There are some de­mands al­ways on Canada, but you never take things for granted,” Smith said. “We’re not play­ing in Canada but darn close to it, which is a big chal­lenge. Ob­vi­ously that out­door game against the U.S. will have an im­pact be­cause of where and how it’s played.”

Talk of some of Canada’s top ju­nior players be­ing re­cruited for the Olympic team was muted Wed­nes­day when Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin an­nounced he would not stand in the way of Rus­sians par­tic­i­pat­ing, which would likely mean he won’t block KHLers from com­pet­ing.


Hockey Canada se­nior man­ager Shawn Bul­lock, head scout Brad McEwen and pres­i­dent Scott Smith an­nounce the players in­vited to the ju­nior team camp on Wed­nes­day.

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