Sheahan shines as juniors down CIS team in exhibition game

The Canadian Press

12/15/2010 12:37:12 AM

TORONTO -- After relying on star players like John Tavares and Taylor Hall for goals in the past, Canada hopes to have a more balanced attack at this year's world junior hockey championship.

The lack of marquee names has been a topic since 40 players arrived for the team selection camp on Saturday, but forward Jaden Schwartz is confident there's enough talent to get the goals they'll need when the tournament opens Dec. 26 in Buffalo, N.Y.

"Every single guy here has got skill and everyone can score," the Colorado College left-winger from Emerald Park, Sask., said Tuesday. "We might not have any huge superstars.

"That's the word going around town, although I'm sure down the road there are going to be superstars from this team in the NHL. But I think it's a team that will score by committee. Four lines of scoring and four lines of grit. Everyone can do it all on this team."

Team management was confident enough that among the first nine cuts were two of the top-10 scorers from the Western Hockey League, Linden Vey and Brendan Gallagher, as well as Ontario Hockey League scoring star Garrett Wilson.

Coach Dave Cameron has said from the start he expects it to be a blue collar team that will need to work hard in all three zones of the ice and grind out wins.

But the potential to score is there, though it may be less evident than in past years which players will grab the spotlight in Buffalo.

Another nine cuts are to be announced early Wednesday morning before the final 22-man roster meets at the MasterCard Centre for a team picture and to start the team-building process later in the day.

A few players made strong cases to make the team in a final exhibition game on Tuesday night against a Canadian interuniversity sport team.

Riley Sheahan, bidding to be the team's checking centre, had a goal and two assists in a 6-2 victory and his linemate for the night, top NHL draft prospect Sean Couturier, had three assists.

"It was nice to put the puck in the net for the first time in any hockey I've played this year," said Sheahan, who is without a goal at Notre Dame this season.

Schwartz, a stocky winger who is a strong skater with clear offensive skill, looks to be a lock to make the final cut.

Centre Brayden Schenn, one of four returning players from last year's silver medallist team, should be a stalwart on attack after playing for the Los Angeles Kings earlier this season, and centre Brandon Pirri, a second-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, has spent this season with Rockford in the American Hockey League.

Big centre Ryan Johansen, the fourth overall pick in the NHL draft in June, and right-winger Brett Connolly, drafted sixth, are others who could be offensive motors.

And there is slick-skating winger Louis Leblanc of the Montreal Juniors and Cody Eakin of the Swift Current Broncos who always seem to be around the net. Eakin scored while Leblanc, as well as tough winger Zack Kassian, looked more like they have made the team as they were kept out of the game against the CIS.

"Every team needs offence, but they're looking for well-rounded players who can play both ends of the ice," said Leblanc. "I have to keep shooting, go on the forecheck and play well defensively."

A player who has worked his way into contention is right-winger Marcus Foligno. He was considered a longshot going into camp but stole the show in the first of two intrasquad games this week with a pair of impressive goals and added another against the CIS team. The six-foot-two, 200-pound winger has no illusions about what his role will be if he makes the team, however.

"The biggest thing for me is the forecheck," said the son of former NHLer Mike Foligno, who was born in Buffalo and was drafted in 2009 by the Sabres. "I've got to skate, beat their defence to the puck and try to spend as much time as possible in the offensive zone.

"I'm here to play an energy role, to hit, backcheck and work hard at both ends and hopefully be a guy they can rely on to get the job done."

Foligno has been playing with centre Sheahan of Notre Dame and Curtis Hamilton of the Saskatoon Blades on what could end up as Canada's shut-down line.

Kassian, of the Windsor Spitfires, is a physical right-winger with some scoring skill who gets into penalty trouble at times. He can be a fierce battler for pucks in the corners and in front of the net.

There are also "underage" centres Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, although it is unlikely both will make the team.

Couturier brings a six-foot-three frame and has looked the more polished in camp, while Nugent-Hopkins has been less imposing despite his evident speed and puck-handling skills.

The defence has three returning players in Ryan Ellis, Calvin de Haan and Jared Cowen.

Cameron has tried pairing six-foot-five Cowen with the third overall draft pick, six-foot-four Erik Gudbranson, for a shut-down duo. Big Dylan Olsen of the University of Minnesota-Duluth is also a strong bet to make the team.

Ellis, headed to his third world juniors, and de Haan are strong offensive defencemen but it remains up in the air what other rearguards will make the team. Six-foot-four Simon Despres of the Saint John Sea Dogs is also a strong skater, while five-foot-10 Tyson Barrie of the Kelowna Rockets and six-foot-one Mark Pysyk of the Edmonton Oil Kings are fine two-way players.

There are also 17-year-old blue-liners Ryan Murphy, a skilled attacking rearguard, and Ryan Murray, a good skater and solid defensive player. One of them could make it, probably as the seventh defenceman.

None of the four goaltenders has leapt up and grabbed the starting job in camp. The favourites going in were Calvin Pickard, who has been perhaps the best in camp, and Mark Visentin, who has struggled. Olivier Roy and J.P. Anderson are also in the running.