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Warriors' Point hoping to make Canadian under-18 team

The Canadian Press

4/7/2014 7:51:45 PM

TORONTO -- Brayden Point is banking on the second time being the charm.

The Moose Jaw Warriors forward is again at the Canadian under-18 national hockey team's training camp. Last year as an under-age player he was with the squad through its final exhibition game in Sochi, Russia -- scoring twice in regulation and once in a shootout in a 5-4 victory over Czech Republic -- before being released and returning home.

Adding insult to injury for Point, the Canadians went on to win the tournament for the third time overall but first since 2008. Canada's victory also snapped the United States' run of four straight gold medal finishes.

"It (being released) was tough but it was an older team and there was a lot of good players," Point said following Monday's practice at the Mastercard Centre. "I understood and was just thankful to get the experience.

"Meeting the Hockey Canada guys and getting to know them over the course of the trip last year was great so now it's a lot more comfortable and I feel a lot more confident."

The five-foot-nine, 160-pound Point was the Warriors leading scorer this year with 91 points (26 goals, 55 assists). He played in all 72 of his team's games and finished the season with an impressive 12-game point streak.

The 18-year-old Calgary native has recorded 149 points (61-88) in his three seasons with Moose Jaw. He also took part in the 2014 CHL Top Prospects game.

Point does have previous national under-18 experience. He was a member of the Canadian squad that won gold at the '13 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament, registering a goal and three assists in five games.

And although he wasn't a part of last year's under-18 world championship squad, Point is well aware of what the expectations are for this year's team.

"No matter what Hockey Canada event you go to, the expectation is always gold," he said. "That never changes no matter what the previous team did.

"But being able to play exhibition games last year over there was an awesome experience. I think I can take the pace of the game from that experience and hopefully translate it into my game this year."

Point is among 22 players who were invited to the camp -- eight from both the WHL and OHL, six from the QMJHL. Thirteen participated in last year's under-17 world hockey challenge in Quebec while eight played in this year's under-17 event in Cape Breton, N.S.

Point is one of nine players on the roster who helped Canada win gold at the Ivan Hlinka event last summer in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

But what stands out most to head coach Kevin Dineen is the sheer size of his squad, with 14 players in camp standing six feet or taller.

"I can't believe the size of these guys and when you look at their bios they were playing midget just a couple of years ago," said Dineen, the former head coach of the NHL's Florida Panthers. "But not only are they big, they're skilled with talent.

"That makes it enjoyable having guys who are able to play the game anyway we need to have success."

But Dineen, who played 19 NHL seasons and led Canada's national women's team to Olympic gold in Sochi in February, has also been impressed with his players' hockey smarts.

"We're certainly not going to compromise and dumb things down for this group," he said. "That wouldn't be fair to them because that wouldn't be making them live up to their potential and by no means are we doing that.

"It's a pretty smart, cerebral bunch and I like the chemistry . . . one of our players missed the first day and didn't understand the drill we were doing so one of his teammates said, 'Here, hop in and I'll show you what we have to do.' There's a little bit of that going on which we're really trying to encourage."

And with good reason. Dineen faces the challenge of having to mould 22 players into a team less than two weeks before the start of the world championship tournament in Lapeenranta and Imatra, Finland.

"Many teams we're going to face have a real advantage because they've been centralized like the U.S. team out in Ann Arbor, Mich., and many of the European players have played together for a while and we're just putting this together," Dineen said. "But for me I love this kind of stuff, it's so much fun.

"This is such a good bunch to be around. They're enthusiastic, they're talented, they're nervous, it's the whole package. We've all felt each other out here for the last few days. Yes, there are challenges. We've got to gel and find some chemistry in a pretty timely manner but it's a really fun group to work with and they're very sharp kids."

Canada will conclude its training camp sessions Tuesday and play exhibition games against Finland and Denmark before opening the under-18 tournament April 17 against Sweden.