CALGARY — The pool of players asked to reclaim gold for Canada at the world junior hockey championship has more thoroughbred than plowhorse in it.
Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast invited 41 players to try out at selection camp Dec. 10-14 in Calgary. Twenty-two will be chosen for the 2012 world junior championship opening Boxing Day in Calgary and Edmonton.
“We did have a lot of skill on the team last year, but these guys I think are more finesse players,” Prendergast said Monday at a news conference in Calgary.
“We have a lot of great puck handlers and guys who distribute the puck very, very well and make players around them better. Last year’s team had more of a blue-collar atmosphere around it.”
Canada settled for silver at the 2011 tournament in Buffalo, N.Y. The Canadians led 3-0 heading into the third period of the gold-medal game, but Russia scored five unanswered goals to take the title.
Moose Jaw Warriors forward Quinton Howden is one of three players invited again to selection camp who experienced that heartbreak. Forward Jaden Schwartz of Colorado College wasn’t able to play in the final because he fractured his ankle in the second game of the tournament.
Niagara IceDogs goaltender Mark Visentin was in net for the championship game. Of the four 19-year-old goalies invited to camp, the starting job is his to lose because he’s the only one with previous tournament experience.
“They’re going to count on me and Schwartz and Visentin,” Howden said.
“It’s all our jobs to help guys out and hopefully show them the way back to getting gold medal.”
Sixteen invitees are from the Western Hockey League, 15 are out of the Ontario Hockey League, eight come from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and two are from U.S. colleges.
“We have a high skill level and want to use our skill to the best of our ability,” head coach Don Hay said from a simultaneous news conference held in Edmonton.
“We want to put players in roles they can flourish in and also can adapt to. We’re going to take the players we feel can play roles and help us achieve our goal which is winning a gold medal.
“We might have to ask a player who plays a lot of minutes for their team to play a little different role. If he’s a skilled player and he’s willing to do that, it’ll help him fit in and make us a stronger team.”
The perennial question surrounding the selection camp roster is will Canada have any players currently in the NHL on the team?
There are eight age-eligible — both in 1992 or later — on NHL rosters. They can be added to the roster prior to the start of selection camp if they are made available.
Hockey Canada confirmed Monday that Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin and Carolina Hurricanes centre Jeff Skinner will not be released to the junior team.
Seguin and Skinner are already in their sophomore seasons in the NHL and weren’t considered to be possibilities.
Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in the draft this year, is Edmonton’s top scorer so the Oilers aren’t willing to loan him out.
The other five currently in the NHL are centres Ryan Johansen (Columbus) and Sean Couturier (Philadelphia), wingers Brett Connelly (Tampa Bay) and Devante Smith-Pelly (Anaheim) as well as defenceman Erik Gudbranson (Florida).
“The other five eligible players that are there, we’ve been in contact and had conversations with all those teams and will continue to have conversations with them leading up to the start of camp,” said Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada’s vice-president of hockey operations for national teams.
The strength of this team is expected to be its blue-line. Half of the 14 defencemen invited are first-round draft picks of NHL players.
Two of them are coming back from injury. Ryan Murphy, a Carolina prospect, was sidelined a month with a concussion, but has been cleared by Hurricane doctors to start playing games again this week. Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips has started skating again after a high ankle sprain he sustained in October.
Up front, left-winger Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs is expected to be ready for selection camp despite breaking a bone in his foot earlier this month.
Canada needs the Florida prospect to be healthy for the tournament. Huberdeau was a standout at summer camp playing opposite wing to Mark Stone of the Brandon Wheat Kings. Stone is also expected to be an impact player for Canada.
With Nugent-Hopkins, Couturier and Johansen in the NHL, there are jobs to be won at centre. Of the eight invited to camp, Prendergast is looking for two pure scorers and a pair of two-way players for that position. Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs and Mark Scheifele of the Barrie Colts have the inside track on two of those spots.