It’s not yet time to pack away the sticks and skates for some of the Leafs players. A pair of Maple Leaf defensemen, Luke Schenn and Ian White were informed on Saturday night that they would have a chance to represent Team Canada at the upcoming World Hockey Championship which begin April 24th in Switzerland. Jason Blake will lace ‘em up for Team USA while Niklas Hagman will don the Finnish colors.
Veteran blueliners Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle were also extended invitations to play for the Czech Republic, but declined citing injuries and family reasons. Kubina and Kaberle had been long-time participants in this tournament, having led the Czechs to three and two gold medals respectively. Jason Blake will be coming back for the second tour of duty with hopes of attaining his first ever medal in international play. Hagman will be coming back for the 5th time and boasts a fairly impressive tournament resume. He has a silver medal under his belt, as well as an all-star nomination and “best forward” award at the 2002 Championship.
As for Schenn and White, neither are newcomers to representing Hockey Canada. Ian White played a key role as a powerplay quarterback for the silver medallist World Junior team back in 2003, while Schenn was a force to be reckoned with at the 2008 World Juniors, leading Canada to a gold medal.
Early into this season, it was widely believed that Schenn would be sent back to Kelowna after 9 games at the NHL level, but he absolutely forced their hand with his spectacular play. So while Luke did not get the chance to captain the 2009 Junior squad like many thought he would, he will get the chance to further his development by playing a prominent role in a high stakes tournament not against boys, but against men.
Ian White gets a chance to continue a breakout season in which he started the year in the press box and finished as Toronto’s #2 defenseman in ice-time next to only Tomas Kaberle. His positional play has taken a big step forward this season, as evidenced by the fact that he was Toronto’s only “plus” defenseman other than the injured Mike Van Ryn. With most of the league’s premiere offensive defensemen still gearing up for the playoffs, it should be interesting to see how White responds to extended minutes as a powerplay quarterback. Burke and Nieuwendyk (who is an assistant for Hockey Canada) figure to be watching very closely, in order to help them determine just how expendable a Tomas Kaberle or a Pavel Kubina may be this offseason.
Fellow youngster Antron Stralman cited the Worlds as one of the key turning points in his development when he played top minutes for Sweden last year, and tied Mike Green for goal scoring lead amongst defensemen. Stralman’s poise and comfort level with his defense partner, Jonas Frogren, was likely one of the key motivations for bringing him over to the NHL this past summer.
Looking forward to the tournament. Hey, at least we’ve still got some “Leaf” hockey to tide us over until the NHL draft.
Always a pleasure,