Cody Ceci and Sean Monahan, whose OHL team hasn't placed a player on Team Canada in a decade, hope they each have a leg up in experience.
The game changes for a teenaged junior when he goes from playing for his regular team to representing his country. Neither of the Ottawa 67's two brightest prospects wore the Maple Leaf last season in Alberta. Ceci was a final-day cut whereas Monahan was then 17 and was also recovering from a head injury suffered earlier in the fall. But they did garner valuable experience by playing in the inaugural Canada-Russia Challenge, the four-game, two-country August series that replaced the standard summer development camp.
That could help both when they join Team OHL on Thursday in Guelph for Game 3 of the Subway Super Series against the Russian Selects.
"Going over to Russia with them, I feel it gives me an advantage," says Ceci, who regularly logs 30-minute nights with the retooling 67's, who slipped out of a playoff position at the OHL quarter-pole with Tuesday's 7-4 loss to Kingston. "It's always nice to be invited to those events and getting invited to this shows they are still interested."
The competition for a spot on Canada's back end will be stiff, even if a resolution to the NHL lockout takes potential 19-year-old returning players Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Murray out of the mix. The London Knights' Scott Harrington will surely be back. Speedy playmakers such as Morgan Rielly and Ryan Murphy, each top-10 NHL picks, might be coveted for their ability to use their fleet feet on the bigger international ice surface in Ufa. Minnesota Wild first-rounder Matt Dumba also made a strong bid for the 2012 squad.
"l just have to play my style, a two-way style, and hope it's enough to be one of seven," Ceci says.
'Have to be versatile'
The 67's were well-represented in Alberta at the 2012 tournament when Detroit Red Wings prospect Petr Mrazek was named the tournament's top goalie after helping the Czech Republic upset Team USA and reach the medal round. Ottawa, however, hasn't had a player wear the Maple Leaf since Brendan Bell did in 2003. In the decade since, two-time 50-goal scorer Tyler Toffoli could not crack the lineup. In 2008-09, when the world junior was in Canada's capital, 67's defenceman Tyler Cuma was injured during the final selection camp.
This season, there's a good chance they could be doubly represented.
Monahan was one of two undrafted forwards who played for Canada in the August series. Having seen his rival in the 2013 NHL draft class, Nathan MacKinnon, play right wing on Monday for Team QMJHL in the Super Series opener, he's ready for anything and everything.
"They got a lot of good centremen in the system," says Monahan, a projected top-5 pick next June. "If you want to make the team you have to be versatile, fill whatever situation they want to put you in."
"[The Canada-Russia experience] is obviously a big help," the 6-foot-2, 205-pound centre adds. "A lot of guys who were there in the summer will be part of it [with Team OHL]. But playing Russia, you know what to expect from their team. It's going to benefit myself."
Ceci and 67's centre Tyler Graovac, the OHL's leading marksman with 18 goals in 17 games, each played in the series last year when Ottawa hosted the first Team OHL-Russia game. Monahan missed it due to a head injury. He was home in Brampton, Ont., watching the festivities on TV.
"The atmosphere seemed pretty good and it was pretty loud," Monahan says. "I expect Guelph is going to be the same."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.