Team Canada continues search for hockey talent ahead of Olympics

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TORONTO — Team Canada coach Willie Desjardins had hoped to go to the Karjala Cup next week with a more settled roster to be able to do some team-building.

"But it just didn’t happen. There’s too many guys to look at," he said in an interview

With NHL players unavailable this time round, Hockey Canada has had to start from the beginning in assembling a men’s team. The Karjala Cup is the latest opportunity for the Hockey Canada braintrust to review the talent at its disposal.

Ten new players including Bemidji State University defenceman Zach Whitecloud and Northeastern University forward Dylan Sikura, the first NCAA players to get an Olympic team audition, will be looking to impress ahead of the Winter Games in February in Pyeongchang.

The Karjala Cup is the third of five tournaments on Canada’s schedule before the Games, and Desjardins says they will use every one to evaluate the roster.

"I think we have to," the former Canucks coach said. "You get injuries, you get different things that happen along the way. All these tournaments will be important, for sure, to find out who’s going to be on the final roster."

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"You almost have to put a bit of blueprint together of what you think your team will have to look like in order to win and then go find those pieces," Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney told reporters at an event launching the Canadian team jerseys.

"Having said that, the success that Canada’s had on the Olympic stage really since 2002 hinges on us being able to put the most talent on the ice and say ‘Beat this.’ We’re not quite there here."

Desjardins says the management team, which includes general manager Sean Burke, Hockey Canada vice-president Scott Salmond and Martin Brodeur, has been "unbelievable" in their talent search.

"They’re not going to leave any stone unturned," he said. "They’re going to look at all the leagues … Those guys are doing a great job of trying to find everybody they possibly can."

While Desjardins can’t wait to get to the coaching part of his job, he says he’s enjoying his new role.

"It’s exciting. And it’s certainly going to get more exciting as we go forward."

There is Canadian offence to choose from in Europe, with teams generally looking to use import spots on attacking talent. Sikura, a sixth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014, looks to add to that attack. The five-foot-nine 165-pounder from Aurora, Ont., currently ranks second in NCAA scoring

Whitecloud, a six-foot-one 196-pounder from Brandon, Man., could fill a need as a defensive defenceman.

Speed will be important on the big European ice.

Some of the other Karjala Cup additions, who did not take part in the August tournaments, are more familiar names.

Rene Bourque played 725 NHL games for six teams including Calgary and Montreal. Matt Frattin had two stints with the Maple Leafs while Linden Vey played for Desjardins in Vancouver. Frattin and Vey are both playing in the KHL while Bourque is in Sweden.

Christian Thomas, a second-round pick of the New York Rangers in 2010 who is playing for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL, has also been added to the roster.

Canada went 2-1-0 against largely club competition at both the Sochi Cup and the Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in St. Petersburg in August.

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The Canadians have already faced some stiff challenges, losing 3-2 at the Sochi tournament to a Russian national team featuring predominantly young talent in a game that included a second-period brawl.

At the next tournament, they were beaten 3-0 by KHL-leading SKA St. Petersburg, whose roster includes seven or eight national team players.

Now it faces international tests at the Karjala Cup. Canada opens Nov. 8 against Switzerland in Biel before moving to Helsinki to take on Sweden on Nov. 10 and Finland on Nov. 12.

"All these teams are going to be starting to get ready (for the Olympics) so it’ll be a better test, for sure," Desjardins said.

Canada will take part in the Channel One Cup in Russia in mid-December and the Spengler Cup in Switzerland at the end of December. With KHL teams playing during the Spengler Cup, not everyone will be available to the Canadian team.

There has been speculation that veterans like Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla may have a role to play. But Doan now has a day job in the NHL’s hockey operations department and Desjardins and Renney both said Iginla will have to be playing hockey somewhere to be considered.

"The speed of the (Olympic) tournament’s going to be at a high end. It’s not fair to ask the player to come in if they’re not playing," said Desjardins. "It would be so hard to do."

"It’s tough to go from zero to 60 as a 40-year-old," echoed Renney.

The Hockey Canada boss also said using talent from the junior leagues was unlikely.

"These are young players naturally, and for us we believe that this is an adult tournament," Renney said. "Not to suggest that a CHL player couldn’t play but we believe that to be a long shot."

Canada roster for Karjala Cup

Goaltenders: Justin Peters, Kolner Haie (DEL); Ben Scrivens, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)

Defence: Karl Stollery, Dinamo Riga (KHL); Zach Whitecloud, Bemidji State University; Chay Genoway, Lada Togliatti (KHL); Chris Lee, Hockey Canada; Maxim Noreau, SC Bern (NLA); Simon Despres, HC Slovan Bratislava (KHL); Jesse Blacker, Kunlun Red Star (KHL); Geoff Kinrade, Kunlun Red Star (KHL); Mat Robinson, CSKA Moscow (KHL).

Forwards: Wojtek Wolski, Kunlun Red Star (KHL); Mason Raymond, SC Bern (NLA); Derek Roy, Linkoping HC (SHL); Brandon Kozun, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL); Eric O’Dell, HC Sochi (KHL); Rene Bourque, Djurgardens IF (SHL); Linden Vey, Barys Astana (KHL); Gilbert Brule, Kunlun Red Star (KHL); Matt Ellison, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL); Quinton Howden, Dinamo Minsk (KHL); Dylan Sikura, Northeastern University; Andrew Ebbett, SC Bern (NLA); Matt Frattin, Barys Astana (KHL); Christian Thomas, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL); Rob Klinkhammer, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL).