Minor League Hockey

Above the 49: Hype for Canadian Jrs. different this year

By Daniel Fung, Sports Network Columnist

Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - As much intrigue as there has been for this year's Canadian World Junior Hockey squad, there really is no comparison between the expectations and excitement for this year's team compared to what the 2005 squad enjoyed.

The 2005 Canadian junior club has been referred to by many, including the coach of this year's Team Canada Steve Spott of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, as being the best junior club that has ever been put together in the history of the tournament.

Despite the many similarities between the 2005 club and this year's version, mostly due to the fact that in both cases Hockey Canada has been able to make player selections with little NHL-club influenced restrictions handcuffing them as a result of the league lockout, the pressure to perform and the anticipation of victory back in 2005 seems tenfold compared to what's expected from Canada at the tournament that begins on Boxing Day in Ufa, Russia.

That's not to say that this year's Team Canada is not expected to go out and reclaim the gold medal after falling short in three straight years, but unlike in 2005, there doesn't seem to be quite the same feeling of desperation to bump the slump for the Canadians.

Heading into the 2005 tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Canada's junior program was still in a major funk.

Despite the fact, at the time, they went into the tournament coming off three straight appearances in the gold medal game, Canada still had not returned to the point of their former glory that had seen them capture five straight championships from 1993 to 1997 and were riding a streak of seven straight years without a gold medal.

The 2005 squad was viewed as the team that 'had' to end the gold medal drought even at the cost of future success, although as history would show, that never ended up becoming an issue with Canada going on to win four more consecutive gold medals after 2005.

The fact that only one member of the 2005 squad - defenseman Cam Barker - returned to help the club defend the gold medal in 2006 while more than a handful of others, including Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Dion Phaneuf and Brent Seabrook went on the next season to immediately have starring roles for their respective NHL clubs goes to show just how above and beyond in talent that team was compared to what one normally sees from a team at this tournament.

Canada's 2013 roster, no matter how it shakes down after their selection camp which opens on Monday, will undoubtedly be a very impressive collection of top junior players but there doesn't quite seem to be the same buzz around this year's crop of top stars compared to 2005.

There is no phenom or clear-cut superstar quite like Crosby on this year's squad, nor does there seem to be a hulking stud blue-liner that has managed to garner as much hype as Dion Phaneuf did back in 2005 although Bruins' 2011 first-rounder Dougie Hamilton might come close.

Team Canada, who already had to forego inviting the Blue Jackets' 2012 first- rounder and returning defenseman Ryan Murray to the selection camp due to injury, might lose even more potential star power if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins opts out of the tournament with a shoulder issue.

Nugent-Hopkins, who has been playing this season with the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons, recently returned to Edmonton to rehab his shoulder with Oilers' doctors. His shoulder problems date back to last year during his rookie season with the Oilers when he was forced from the lineup twice and missed a total of 20 games as a result.

Even without the likes of Murray and potentially Nugent-Hopkins, Team Canada should be, and will be, considered a favorite in the tournament and there will be plenty of eyes on them from the Great White North even if a majority of the games will be airing in the middle of the night.

Just as they did in 2005, many Canadian hockey fans are eagerly anticipating a slump-busting gold medal victory by the Canadian lads by the time this tournament is all said and done.

Just don't expect a party quite like 2005.

12/05 11:38:07 ET

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