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Big, deep Canadians bringing hard hats

>Canada

Coach: Dave Cameron (OHL's Mississauga St. Michael's Majors)

2010 result: Silver medal (lost to USA in gold-medal game, 6-5, in overtime)

Tournament history: Canada had won five straight gold medals before last year's upset loss to Team USA in Saskatoon. The Canadians have taken a medal for 12 straight years, including gold or silver each of the last nine. Since 1974, the medal haul includes 15 golds, nine silvers and five bronzes.

There is no big-name scoring star for Team Canada this year like there has been in recent WJC events. No Sidney Crosby. No John Tavares. No Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle. Not even a young stud like Tyler Seguin or Jeff Skinner, tournament-eligible players for 2011 who are instead in the NHL with Boston and Carolina, respectively.

But don't think for a second there's a lack of talent on this roster.

All but one player has already been drafted by an NHL team and the lone exception, 18-year-old center Sean Couturier of Drummondville, is the top-rated North American skater for next June's draft by NHL Central Scouting.

There are 15 first-round picks (including winger Zack Kassian, the Sabres' top choice in 2009), and five who were tabbed in the top 10 of their draft.

Six of the seven defensemen are first-rounders, led by captain and three-time junior team member Ryan Ellis of Windsor (Nashville, 2009). Other key first-round blueliners include assistant captains Jared Cowen (Spokane, Ottawa '09) and Calvin de Haan (Oshawa, Islanders '09), and Erik Gudbranson of Kingston, who is the highest pick on the team (third overall to Florida in 2010).

There is still plenty of speed and an unbelievable amount of size. Seven forwards are over 6-foot-2. So are four of the defensemen -- and three are over 6-4.

Players to Watch: Kassian (Windsor) and winger Marcus Foligno (Sudbury) are the Sabres' lone draftees in the tournament, and each took different routes to the roster. Kassian is having a monster year in Windsor (15-33-48 in 25 games) and was expected to make team. Foligno (15-18-33 in 28 games at Sudbury) was one of the surprises of selection camp and forced his way on.

Brayden Schenn (Brandon) is the lone returnee among the forwards. He played eight games this year with the Los Angeles Kings and seven more with Manchester of the AHL before heading back to junior. He was taken fifth overall in 2009.

Ellis was named captain Sunday before the Canadians practiced at the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls, Ont., and the honor caps what has already been a brilliant junior career. He's won back-to-back Memorial Cups in Windsor as well as a gold and silver medal in this tournament. Ellis, in fact, is only the seventh Canadian to play in this tournament three times (a list that also includes Jay Bouwmeester, Jason Spezza and Eric Lindros).

Couturier had 96 points last season, becoming the first 17-year-old to lead the Quebec League in scoring since Crosby did that in 2004.

Mark Visentin (Niagara), Phoenix's No. 1 pick in June, figures to be the main goaltender.

Louis Leblanc (Montreal Juniors) was the Canadiens' top pick in 2009 and will get plenty of media attention north of the border. A former Harvard student who left the school to play juniors, the winger was cut from the squad last year.

Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College), a Saskatchewan native and 2009 top pick of St. Louis, is one of the most skilled offensive players on the club. He's leading his U.S. college team in scoring (11-15-26 in 17 games) and may be the leader for national freshman of the year.

Outlook: The goaltending is a question mark and Cameron freely admits this is going to have to be a "lunch pail" group if it's going to have success. Canada will have to rely on its solid defense corps and hope the goaltending holds up to win some low-scoring games while it searches for its offense. Find a way to get in the building Jan. 5. It would be a big upset if you're not watching a Canada-USA gold-medal game.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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