Forget the NHL, some of the most talented young hockey players in Canada are coming to play in Whistler, and thats just the preview.
The real deal, the International Ice Hockey Federations (IIHF) World Junior Championship, is taking place in Vancouver in January 2006. Tickets for the games are hot commodities as the event sold out eight months in advance.
The reason for all the excitement is that this championship brings together the best junior hockey players on the planet. After a stunning victory last year, Canada wants to field another gold medal team. This is why, come Aug. 10, the best action in Whistler will be at the rink.
Team Canadas National Development Camp is taking place in Whistler from Aug. 10 to 14 and concluding in Vancouver Aug. 15. It will be a chance for local residents to glimpse the players who will become the hockey superstars of tomorrow.
Forty-four of Canadas top junior hockey players are invited to the camp that is taking place at Meadow Park Sports Centre. This is the first chance Team Canada staff will have to evaluate this group of players in an isolated environment. Only 22 spots are available on the roster and right now the field is wide open with only two returning players.
Head Coach Brent Sutter of the Red Deer Rebels, is returning for his second year with Team Canada. Sutter coached last years team to an undefeated streak that ended in a gold medal. The team dominated its opponents, beating Russia in the final 6-1. It wasnt long before observers broke out the "best ever" labels.
Any coach would be hard pressed to second that kind of win, but this year playing on home turf, Sutter will want to match last years effort even if he cant top it. Given the strength of the roster for this years development camp, Sutter may be able to produce another gold medal team.
There are several names Whistler residents may want to keep an eye out for come August. Sidney Crosby will be the main media draw. The talented young hockey player has been compared with Wayne Gretzky since he was 14 and this may be the last chance to see him before he turns pro. Others to watch for are Benoit Pouliot, Luc Bourdon, Mark Fistric, Ryan Parent, Marc Staal, Ryan OMarra and B.C.s own Gilbert Brule.
Among the players who will be fighting for the coveted 22 roster spots are several B.C. boys, led by Brule.
A Burnaby native who plays for the Vancouver Giants, Brule is a highly touted draft prospect. A small centre, Brules intensity is hard to rival and he hits like a much bigger man. He is blessed with good speed and a goal scoring flash. Brule should have a good shot at making the Team Canada with his all or nothing attitude.