Flames WJC preview

By Lawrence Bailey

As the big club rolls along on one of its most impressive runs in recent memory, a quintet of the Calgary Flames’ brightest prospects are set to shine on the international stage at the World Junior Championships from December 26th – Janunary 5th in Finland.

Dion Phaneuf, D – Team Canada, (9th overall, 2003), Red Deer Rebels, WHL

Phaneuf is rapidly becoming a household name amongst Flames fans as he personifies the Sutter approach to how the game is played. Praised for his size, strength and defensive smarts, the offensive side of his game has been a pleasant bonus of late and was a huge factor in his being named to the Canadian team.

In a pair of exhibition games against Sweden and Austria, Phaneuf did not disappoint, notching a goal and two assists (all against the Austrians) and providing a strong physical presence in a much bigger Canadian back line.

Phaneuf has been making his case for an opportunity to shine on the world stage all season, starting with a very impressive performance in Flames camp and continuing on through the WHL regular season campaign, the RE/MAX Canada/Russia Challenge with the WHL stars and into the Team Canada selection camp. Canadian Head Coach Mario Durocher has said Phaneuf is one of the players he expects to step up and be a leader on the club, although he isn’t wearing a letter on his jersey.

Tim Ramholt, D – Team Switzerland, (39th overall, 2003), Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, QMJHL

Ramholt is back for another tour of duty at the WJC, having made the trip from Zurich to Halifax last season to represent the Swiss squad.

Ramholt has been impressive thus far in Cape Breton, putting up solid numbers and getting good reviews while adjusting to the North American game. Playing in a pool with the Finns, Czechs, Canadians and Ukranians, Ramholt and his countrymen will be hard-pressed to finish the round robin in the top three, a necessary condition for avoiding the relegation round and having a shot at the podium.

Being given another chance to compete against the best of the best internationally once again will be a huge boost for Ramholt’s development, however, regardless of the outcome for the Swiss team.

Greg Moore, RW – Team United States, (143rd overall, 2003), University of Maine, NCAA

The big, raw winger from Lisbon, Maine is also back for another kick at the WJC can, having represented the USA in Halifax last winter. He’s one of about a dozen returnees on an American squad many pundits feel have its best chance ever to capture its first WJC gold medal.

Moore has been progressing well at Maine and this year’s tournament should be a real chance for him to shine, to step up his game and show the potential General Manager Darryl Sutter and his staff see in him.

Emmanuel Peter, C – Team Switzerland, (142nd overall, 2002), Kloten, Swiss League

Performing well for a mid-round selection, Peter has spent the last few seasons honing his skills in his native Switzerland. There is limited information and exposure for Swiss players outside of Switzerland, so Peter has a real opportunity to show what he’s made of in his week and a half on the international stage, much like he did in a solid performance last year in Halifax.

Playing alongside fellow Flames draft pick Tim Ramholt, he will look to lead Switzerland to an improbable medal round berth by finishing ahead of either Finland, the Czech Republic or Canada in the tournament’s round robin stage.

Pierre Johnsson, D – Team Sweden (207th overall, 2002), Mora, Swedish 2nd Division

Another late-round European pick who is on a WJC roster, Johnsson has impressed observers in the Swedish 2nd Division and many feel he will be an Elite League regular by year’s end. After a few seasons in Farjestad, Johnsson moved to Mora and has been steadily improving ever since.

With some higher profile defenders ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s not likely Johnsson will play a key role in any Swedish success, but he is being given the opportunity to show what he’s made of, and the fact that he was named to the team alone speaks volumes to his talent, his work ethic and the progress he has made since being drafted in June 2002.