The West is clearly the best when it comes to Canada's national junior team final evaluation camp.
Twenty-one of the 32 players invited to the camp, which opens Dec. 12 in Winnipeg, are from the Western Hockey League. That includes four of four goaltenders invited, seven of 10 defencemen and 10 of 18 forwards.
"We are fortunate to be in a unique position this year, whereby we have wealth of experience with twelve players returning from the 2004 silver medal winning National Junior Team," said Bob Nicholson, President of Hockey Canada.
"Hockey Canada's Program of Excellence continues to set new standards on the world scene and the quality of players invited to the camp is a testament of the hard work and commitment of all involved in the Canadian minor hockey system."
The four goalies who will compete for the final two spots are Rejean Beauchemin of the Prince Albert Raiders, Devan Dubnyk of the Kamloops Blazers, Jeff Glass of the Kootenay Ice and Kevin Nastiuk of the Medicine Hat Tigers.
The seven WHL defencemen include four returnees - Dion Phaneuf of the Red Deer Rebels, Brent Seabrook of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, Braydon Coburn of the Portland Winter Hawks and Shawn Belle of the Tri City Americans - plus Cam Barker of the Medicine Hat Tigers, Shea Weber of the Kelowna Rockets and Mike Green of the Saskatoon Blades. The only non-WHL players invited to challenge for seven blueline spots are Danny Syvret of the London Knights, Kyle Quincey of the Mississauga Ice Dogs and Alex Picard of the Halifax Mooseheads.
Up front, the contingent of 10 WHLers is led by returneees Ryan Getzlaf of the Calgary Hitmen, Nigel Dawes of the Kootenay Ice and Jeremy Colliton of the Prince Albert Raiders. Other WHL products aiming to make it as forwards are: Dustin Boyd of the Moose Jaw Warriors; Eric Fehr of the Brandon Wheat Kings; Colin Fraser of the Red Deer Rebels; Andrew Ladd of the Calgary Hitmen; Clarke MacArthur of the Medicine Hat Tigers, Stefan Meyer of Medicine Hat; and, Ryan Stone of Brandon.
The OHL forwards invited include returnees Jeff Carter of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds; Mike Richards of the Kitchener Rangers and Anthony Stewart of the Kingston Frontenacs as well as a pair of London Knights - Corey Perry and David Bolland.
The QMJHL is represented by returnees Sidney Crosby of the Rimouski Oceanic and Stephen Dixon of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. QMJHL grad Patrice Bergeron, who played for the Boston Bruins last season and is currently with Providence in the AHL, is also on the list of 32.
The final team of two goalies and 20 skaters will be named on Dec. 16. Canada plays it first game of the tournament on Christmas Day in Grand Forks, N.D.
The team will be coached by Brent Sutter, a former NHL player who is owner, manager and coach of the Red Deer Rebels. He and Hockey Canada director of scouting Blair Mackasey chose the players for the selection camp roster.
"The Western league now is very strong and very deep and obviously reflective in the number of the players that are here," Mackasey said.
The Minnesota Wild opted not to make Brent Burns available for a second straight year as he is being converted from a forward to a defenceman with the Wild's farm team in Houston.
The Florida Panthers have said forward Nathan Horton can play for the Canadian junior team, but not until Dec. 20. Hockey Canada's policy is that players must report on the first day of selection camp and no later, so Horton was not included on the roster announced Monday.
The NHL lockout kept players who might have otherwise been unavailable to the team in the junior ranks, which contributed to a record number of players returning to the Canadian team for a second year.
The pool of Canadian players born in 1985 is particularly deep and talented and this year's roster is smaller number than the 34 to 37 players invited in recent years.
All that combined to make an invitation to even try out for the team tough to get. So there were some high-end junior forwards left off the selection camp roster, including Prince Albert's Kyle Chipchura, Brampton's Wojtek Wolski, Moncton's Steve Bernier and Rimouski's Dany Roussin and Marc-Antoine Pouliot.