Date: December 13, 2016

Hart looks sharp in Canada junior net

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By Terry Koshan – Toronto Sun

The whispers are that the No. 1 job in Canada’s net is Carter Hart’s to lose.

At the selection camp this week at the Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau, Hart is leaving nothing to chance.

A Philadelphia Flyers prospect, Hart turned aside all 10 shots he saw in Canada’s 5-3 victory against the U Sports all-stars on Tuesday. Hart didn’t have an overly busy night before he was relieved by Michael McNiven halfway through the second period, but was sharp and gave Canadian fans a glimpse of what they can expect during the 2017 world junior championship.

“I’m competing for a spot just like everyone else and taking things in stride,” Hart said. “You just have to stay dialled in the whole time and just be totally engaged for a full 60 minutes, or tonight, 30 minutes. You have to make sure you catch yourself when you drift off.”

McNiven had a rough go initially, allowing three goals in a span of under three minutes not long after he entered the game. He settled down and his team was smarter in front of him through the third period.

McNiven will play in the U Sports net on Tuesday when the teams meet in the afternoon, while Connor Ingram, who played for U Sports on Monday, will split time with Hart in Canada’s net. It’s an unconventional way of doing things, but Hockey Canada wants the best opportunity to evaluate the goalies. The battle is more between McNiven and Ingram for the backup role.

Encouraging for Canada in the victory is that some players expected to score in the tournament got off to a fine start.

Sam Steel scored a pair of pretty goals, while Dylan Strome, Taylor Raddysh and Mitchell Stephens also scored.

Steel was good on a line with Mathew Barzal and Julien Gauthier, while Strome, Raddysh and Dillon Dube had some strong moments.

“It’s too early to talk about chemistry,” head coach Dominique Ducharme said. “We’re looking more individually at what guys can do.”

POINT SHOTS

Each of the Canadians who did not play on Monday, a group that included defencemen Noah Juulsen and Jake Bean and forwards Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Tyson Jost and Nicolas Roy, will play in the game against U Sports on Tuesday afternoon. Forward Blake Speers, who has been recovering from a wrist injury, also is expected to be in the lineup … Ducharme said it’s “possible” the initial cuts will be made following Tuesday’s game. Canada must release one goalie, three defencemen and five forwards … Long gone are the days Canada could seemingly waltz into the world junior and beat opponents without working up much of a sweat. On top of that, the Canadians have had trouble winning close games in recent years, one reason why there has been just one gold for the nation since 2009. “Back in the day it seemed like Canada always won those games, those tight games,” Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski said. “The other countries are so much better now. There are more resources being put into junior hockey. They don’t want to be embarrassed at the world junior in front of 20,000 fans. The more adversity you can go through in little spots here at camp is going to help them understand you have to really (bear down) in tight games.”

FROM THE HASH MARKS

Of the 31 players in Canada’s camp, 18 were born in 1997, so this marks their final opportunity to not only participate in the world junior but win the gold medal. Among them is Barzal, one of five players who was on the team last winter. “It’s almost like desperation, the last chance at world-junior gold,” Barzal said. “Besides the Stanley Cup, I would say this is right behind it (in terms of importance for a player). As soon as I got sent back by the (New York) Islanders (in November), the first thing I had on my mind was coming to Montreal and Toronto and winning a gold medal.” Barzal, the 16th pick overall by the Isles in 2015, played in two games for New York before he was returned to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. In 13 games with Seattle before heading to selection camp, Barzal, a centre, had two goals and 17 assists … Memo to the Islanders: Make forward Anthony Beauvillier available to Canada for the tournament. There’s no sense in keeping Beauvillier out of the lineup — he has played in one game since Nov. 30 — and out of Canada’s grasp. Ditto for the Arizona Coyotes and forward Lawson Crouse, who has one goal and one assist in 24 games, averaging 11 minutes 11 seconds of ice time. With Canada, Crouse would have a central role and would be a shoo-in to be named captain (something that likely would be agreed upon as a condition for Crouse to be loaned). Rare is the player who is loaned to Canada for the world junior by an NHL club and is worse off for the experience, no matter where Canada finishes … Raddysh is one of six Tampa Bay Lightning prospects trying out for Canada. “It’s pretty cool,” Raddysh said. “It makes things a little easier with all of the familiar faces.”

Lee granted overseas opportunity with South Korea

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By Brendan Pawliw My Prince George Now

20-year old forward Chong Hyun Lee of the Prince George Spruce Kings has been invited to play for South Korea at the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge in Poland.

The tournament runs from December 15-17 with participating teams that include Ukraine, Poland, and Kazakhstan.

Lee has 10 goals and 11 assist so far this season with the Spruce Kings.

His younger brother Chong Min Lee, Dawson Rodin and Ryan Stack have been called up since Lee and Kyle Johnson won’t be available for the team’s three game road trip.

Lee will return to the Spruce Kings after the holiday break.

Jagr ready to pass Messier

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By Lucas Aykroyd – IIHF.com

Jaromir Jagr continues to make history that may never be repeated. His next feat: passing Mark Messier for second place among the all-time NHL points leaders.

The 44-year-old Czech legend currently has 1,883 points to Messier’s 1,887. It’s taken a lot of time and effort for Jagr to catch up. To put it in perspective, when Messier played his last NHL game in 2004 at age 43, John Kerry had clinched the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, and The Return of the King had just won 11 Oscars.

“He was a great skater, a great leader,” Jagr said of Messier. “He was tough to play against because he could fight. He was a pretty dirty player – the good way, obviously. The game has changed. What was legal back then wouldn’t be legal right now, but he was just a great skater. That’s what gave him a huge advantage, I would say.”

Jagr won’t surpass the NHL’s all-time scoring king, Wayne Gretzky. “The Great One” is uncatchable with 2,857 points. However, odds are no one else will edge out the Florida Panthers right wing for second place either.

His closest competition is 37-year-old Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks – who is more than 500 points behind. Among younger stars, both Alexander Ovechkin, 31, and Sidney Crosby, 29, are closing in on the 1,000-point plateau, meaning they’d need to average a point per game over a full 82-game slate for the next 10 seasons to get close. No room for injuries, work stoppages, or reduced production due to aging. That’s a long shot, especially considering that scoring in the NHL overall continues to decline.

Parallels and contrasts abound between the careers of Jagr and Messier.

In their prime, both were considered immensely strong men, noted for their passing and tremendous wrist shots, on which they relied in lieu of slappers. Jagr, though, has never had Messier’s notorious mean streak. In 1984 alone, Messier’s rap sheet included a six-game suspension for clubbing Vancouver’s Thomas Gradin with his stick and a 10-game ban for sucker-punching Calgary’s Jamie Macoun.

Both Jagr and Messier played second fiddle to an all-time great en route to their early Stanley Cups. Jagr was nicknamed “Mario Jr.” as Mario Lemieux led Pittsburgh to titles in 1991 and 1992. Messier was the second-line centre for the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers whom Gretzky captained to the Cup in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988.

Of course, “The Moose” would grab the spotlight when he wore the C en route to Edmonton’s last Cup in 1990 and the New York Rangers’ first Cup in 54 years in 1994. As it happens, 1989/90 was Messier’s most productive single season (129 points). Jagr, who was an 18-year-old NHL rookie that year, would score even more in 1995-96, his best season (149 points).

Their individual trophy cases are both loaded, but in different ways. Jagr won five Art Ross Trophies as the NHL points champion to zero for Messier. However, Messier twice claimed the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP (1990, 1992) and Jagr just once (1999). Messier also won the Conn Smythe as the 1984 playoff MVP.

In IIHF competition, Jagr holds a clear edge. He captured gold with the Czech Republic at the inaugural “NHL Olympics” in Nagano, Japan in 1998. Messier missed that tournament since Canada chose Rob Zamuner to play on its checking line over him, and wound up fourth. Messier owns one silver medal from the 1989 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, while Jagr, a Triple Gold Club member, has two World Championship golds (2005, 2010) and two bronzes (1990, 2011).

With that said, Messier fared better in non-IIHF-sanctioned international play. He was part of Canada’s victorious teams at the 1984, 1987, and 1991 Canada Cups.

Where the two men diverge the most is in their attitude toward playing hockey as long as humanly possible. Messier, who is still ahead of Jagr with 1,756 career games, sounded at peace when he officially retired in 2005. He told reporters: “It’s been a long career and I’ve achieved a lot. There was nothing really left for me to achieve.” Messier was a good rather than great player for his last seasons with Vancouver (1998-2000) and New York (2000-04).

Conversely, Jagr is trying to stay in the NHL as long as he can. He’s now on his eighth NHL club, compared to Messier’s three. He simply loves hockey that much. Whereas the 2004/05 NHL lockout helped to end Messier’s career, Jagr spent it playing for his native Kladno and for Avangard Omsk. When he returned to the NHL in 2005/06, he replaced the retired Messier as the captain of the Rangers and put up his last 100-point-plus season (129 points).

If Jagr hadn’t spent three more seasons with Omsk (2009-2011), who knows how high his point totals would be today? Nonetheless, there’s a decent chance he will become the only player not named Gretzky to surpass the 2,000-point plateau. Jagr surpassed the legendary Gordie Howe (1,850 points) for third place on 7th March.

“To me it’s like number one, because I don’t really count Wayne Gretzky,” Jagr said. “I think he was from another planet. I don’t think he was from this planet. Whatever he did is unbreakable.”

Hindsight is funny. Jagr was drafted fifth overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990. At the time, debates raged over whether he or one of the players taken before him would turn out to be the best of the bunch: Owen Nolan (Quebec Nordiques, #1), Petr Nedved (Vancouver Canucks, #2), Keith Primeau (Detroit Red Wings, #3), or Mike Ricci (Philadelphia Flyers, #4).

Today, there’d be no debate about Jagr’s superiority. Moving past Messier is just another jewel in the crown of a legendary career.