Team Canada coach Tim Hunter expects to see speed and more speed from the squad. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Coach Hunter wants up-tempo Team Canada as world junior squad hits ice

COLWOOD, B.C. — Team Canada coach Tim Hunter says the team that looks to defend its world junior hockey title over the Christmas season will be one of the fastest ever.

Hunter said he expects to see speed and more speed after the squad’s had its first skate Tuesday at the short selection camp. He said the team that will play in high gear for 60 minutes.

“The hallmark, and the way we’re going to play, our identity, is going to be fast hockey,” Hunter said. “Speed, with and without the puck, and we’re going to try to be one of the fastest junior teams Canada has had.”

Hunter, the coach of the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors and a former NHL player known for his hard-nosed style, ran an up-tempo first practice where players were constantly moving forward.

Hunter said he felt blessed having a team with six top lines, six pairs of top-echelon defencemen and three superstar goalies.

“It was a track meet out there,” he said. “It was fast and that’s the way we’re going to play. It’s exciting.”

Hunter said the initial workout gave the players a chance to get used to each other and get a sense of the style of play that is expected.

“The buzzword is fast and speed in hockey nowadays,” he said. “There’s a lot of ways to get there and it’s not just skating fast. It’s being fast in every aspect of the game.”

Thirty-four players from across Canada are invited to the training camp, which must be trimmed to 22 by Saturday.

Only two members of Canada’s 2018 gold medal team, forwards Alex Formenton and Maxine Comtois, are returning this year.

Hunter said it was too early to talk about the timing of roster decisions.

“It’s going to be a tough decision when we make releases of anybody,” he said. “We want those to be hard decisions.”

The junior team plays its first exhibition game Wednesday against a team comprised of top university hockey players.

Ontario Hockey League goalie Mike DiPietro said he’s determined to make this year’s team after being cut last year.

The Vancouver Canucks draft pick said he tried to turn last year’s disappointment into a motivational tool where he’s totally focused on making the team.

“I turned it into the fuel to push me to where I’m at today,” DiPietro said after practice. “Last year I felt confident. This year I’m more hungry and I’m not taking anything for granted.”

Formenton, from the OHL’s London Knights, said as a veteran player he wants to carry much of the load to help the newer players adjust to the experience.

“I’m trying to be as much of a leader as I can,” he said.

Formenton said he learned at last year’s world tournament that everybody must be playing at their peak to succeed.

“You are playing against the top guys of every country,” he said. “There’s minimal room for mistakes.”

Canada opens the tournament on Boxing Day against Denmark at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

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