Flyers prospects among invitees to Canadian final selection camp

By Al Alven

Philadelphia Flyers prospects Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Rejean Beauchemin are among the 32 players who have been invited to Team Canada’s final selection camp in preparation for the 2005 Under 20 World Junior Championships.

The camp will take place from December 12-16 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Selection will be crucial for Canada this season, as the program hopes to not only avenge its historical loss to the United States in last year’s gold medal game in Finland, but to win its first overall championship since 1997.

“As a coaching staff, we’re counting on a very competitive camp,” explained Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter in a press release. Sutter is also the owner, general manager and head coach of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels.

“This camp is just another step in the process of getting better as a team each day. We are expecting these players to be giving their best and be focused on the task at hand from the moment they arrive in Winnipeg.”

With a number of high-profile players from last year’s squad set to return, Canada will enter the tournament as the favorites. Centers Carter and Richards, both members of the 2004 team, are locks to be re-selected. Beauchemin, a potential first-time selection, will be one of four highly-regarded goaltenders battling over two roster spots at the camp.

“We are fortunate to be in a unique position this year, whereby we have wealth of experience with 12 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.”

Carter, 19 (turning 20 on New Year’s Day), is the current jewel of the Flyers’ farm system, and is widely viewed as one of the top amateur players in the world. The London, Ontario native is the complete package, having developed into a top-flight major junior player at both ends of the rink. His game now has no major weaknesses, since he added a solid 10 lbs. of muscle mass and, thus, additional strength to his frame over the offseason.

At present, Carter, the Flyers’ first selection (11th overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, leads the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and is ranked 11th in the OHL with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 26 games. He also boasts a solid +7 rating and 26 PIMs. In 207 career games over the past three and a half seasons with the Greyhounds, he has 208 points (103 goals, 105 assists), a +7 rating and 119 PIMs.

Carter, who if not for the NHL lockout, would likely be in the midst of his rookie season with the Flyers, led last year’s Team Canada WJC entry with 7 points in 6 games. He will be asked to be a major contributor once again, both on the scoresheet and from a leadership perspective. As such, expect to see him used as the team’s top center and as a primary weapon in power play situations.

Richards, 19, is arguably the top two-way player in the Canadian major junior ranks. He is generally viewed as the second-best prospect in the Flyers’ system, behind Carter, though some would argue the order. Regardless, Richards has developed into a world class talent and, like Carter, would likely be playing in the NHL if not for the lockout.

The Kenora, Ontario native was the Flyers’ second pick (1st round, 24th overall) of the 2003 draft, taken 13 selections after Carter. Though Richards is not expected to be a big-time point-producer in the NHL, he has put up terrific numbers at the major junior level. He currently ranks third in scoring for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, with 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists), a +4 rating and 38 PIMs in 24 games. In 150 career games with the team, he has accumulated 206 points (86 goals, 120 assists), a +60 rating and 224 PIMs.

Richards is now in his second year as captain of the Rangers, and is the early favorite to wear the “C” for Team Canada. Though coach Sutter is probably much more familiar with the WHL players on the prospective national team roster, he is said to be a big fan of Richards, a player consistently lauded by scouts for his strong work ethic, leadership abilities and overall maturity level.

Beauchemin, 19, has emerged as one of the top netminders in the goaltender-rich prairies of Western Canada. He emerged from relative obscurity last season by leading the perennially lousy Prince Albert Raiders to their first postseason appearance in four years.

Thus far this season, his third in the WHL, the Winnipeg native boasts a 10-12-3 record (with two shutouts) in 29 games for a Raiders team that has returned to its struggling ways. Without Beauchemin’s fine play, the team (11-15-4) would likely be one of the worst in the circuit. With him, amazingly, it remains in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

Beauchemin was the first of three goaltenders selected by the Flyers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He was taken in the sixth round (191st overall), 51 selections after David Tremblay (Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL) and two spots before Ville Hostikka (SaiPa, Finland Jrs.)

Unlike Carter and Richards, Beauchemin’s inclusion on the Team Canada roster is anything but a foregone conclusion. He will have to contend with fellow WHLers Devan Dubnyk (Kamloops Blazers), Jeff Glass (Kootenay Ice) and Kevin Nastiuk (Medicine Hat Tigers) for the two available spots in what will undoubtably be the most hotly-contested of the positional battles at the camp.

The final team of two goalies and 20 skaters will be named on Dec. 16.The WJCs will run from December 25 – January 4 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Canada will open tournament play on Christmas Day, against Slovakia.

“I’m very pleased with the group of players we have invited to attend the camp in Winnipeg,” said Blair Mackasey, Hockey Canada’s head scout who oversees the player selection of Canada’s Under-18 and junior teams.

“We’ve had to make some difficult decisions, but we feel we have a group of players that will give us the best chance to assemble a team capable of challenging for the gold medal.”

“The Canadian Hockey League is very proud of the tradition of excellence that we have developed with Hockey Canada for our national junior team program,” added David Branch, president of the CHL.

“The young men who have been selected to compete in the final selection camp represent the very best Canadians that the CHL has to offer and we wish them all of the success that their hard work and determination brings.”

Canada Selection Camp Facts and Figures

Roster Breakdown
• 21 players from the Western Hockey League
• 7 from the Ontario Hockey League
• 4 from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League

• Age (from Dec. 24): 19 years, 4 months, 27 days
• Height: 6’1
• Weight: 202 lbs.

Bred for Success
• 12 returning players from the 2004 World Junior Championship Team
• 21 of the players have previous “Program of Excellence” experience as members of the Canada’s National Under-18 team program
• 23 of the 32 players have been involved in Canada’s Regional Under-17 “Program of Excellence” Leadership Program
• 11 players (including Carter and Richards) are currently captains of their respective teams, and another 14 are alternate captains

Highly-Touted Ensemble
• 14 of the 32 players are NHL first round entry draft picks, six players are second round drafts, and five were selected in the third round
• 23 of the 32 players were drafted between the first and third rounds of the CHL Draft, three were chosen between rounds four and six, and six players were undrafted by the CHL

Tradition of Greatness
In the 1990’s, Canada captured seven gold medals, with a record five in a row from 1993-1997 (and one silver medal in 1999). Canada is the only country to medal at the past six World Junior Championships, with silver medals in 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2004, and bronze medals in 2000 and 2001.

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