CALGARY – The 2013 edition of the Canadian junior hockey team has more thoroughbred than grunt in it.
The world junior championship in Ufa, Russia, returns to the wider ice in Europe after four years of North American tournaments.
Canadian head coach Steve Spott put a premium on fleet, nimble feet when choosing his players at selection camp.
“When I interviewed for this job, that was one of the questions they asked me,” Spott said. “That was my first answer. ‘I want to be a team that can skate.’
“When we get over there against the U.S., obviously the Russians and the Swedes, the Finns, these teams can absolutely fly. We have to be able to keep up and compete. Speed was key.”
Canada isn’t without muscle. The majority of defencemen are over six feet and between 190 and 210 pounds. Forwards Boone Jenner, Brett Ritchie and Anthony Camara have sandpaper in their games.
But the Europeans quickly key on poor skaters and corral them, says Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast, and that can’t happen if Canada is to win the gold medal
“We’ll outskate them. That’s what we’ll do,” Prendergast said.
Thanks to the continuing NHL lockout, Canada will have four lines that can score.
The team’s strength is up the middle starting with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers as the top line’s centre, along with centres Ryan Strome, Jenner and Philip Danault.
Jonathan Huberdeau will play on the left of Nugent-Hopkins. The conversion of Mark Scheifele from centre to right wing to join them has begun.
If not for the NHL lockout, those three forwards would have played in the league this season, along with Strome. The New York Islanders prospect was Canada’s top centre in the 2012 tournament playing between Huberdeau and Mark Stone.
Jenner leads the Ontario Hockey League in goals, bringing scoring ability to Canada’s third and fourth lines.
Danault, a first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, was the last forward cut from the 2012 team.
Speed ultimately got 17-year-old Halifax Mooseheads forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin on the team.
MacKinnon was the fastest skater at selection camp. With his play, Drouin answered questions about his ability to compete physically against older players.
Wingers JC Lipon and Ty Rattie rank in the top six in Western Hockey League scoring and Charles Hudon averages over a point a game for Chicoutimi.
Canada is deep on the back end in size and strength. Dougie Hamilton and alternate captain Scott Harrington are the two returning defencemen from the team that won bronze in Alberta and both will play a lot of minutes.
Morgan Rielly, Tyler Wotherspoon and Griffin Reinhart are big stay-at-home types.
Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers made the team on his third try and has the puck-moving skills of a forward.
Xavier Ouellet wasn’t on the ice much at camp because of a high ankle sprain, but Spott thought so highly of his play during a summer series against Russia that the 18-year-old was named to the squad.
Spott was confident Friday that Ouellet will play in the first exhibition game Dec. 20 against host Finland.
Canada will hold its pre-competition in camp in Finland, then travel to Ufa on Dec. 23.