- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Looking for a cozy place to spend the holidays? You might have trouble finding a room, but there’s plenty to do later this month in Grand Forks, N.D., and Thief River Falls, Minn. A few words of caution: dress in layers — many, many layers.

The IIHF World Junior Championship is being held in those locales this season, and for the first time in the 27-year history of the tournament, the United States is defending champion. The surprising Americans won it all last winter in Helsinki and get to defend their title at home Dec.25 through Jan.4.

The Washington Capitals should be well represented, an indication of improvement in scouting by the team. The Caps will have one skater on the American team, Chris Bourque; two Canadians, right wing Eric Fehr and defenseman Mike Green; at least one Russian, left wing Alexander Ovechkin; possibly one member of the Swedish team, defenseman Oscar Hedman; and possibly one member of the Swiss team, right wing Peter Guggisberg.

The Canadian team was announced Monday, the Americans yesterday. Other teams are expected to list their teams during the rest of the week.

“[Bourque] has very good hockey sense, he is very competitive and it looks like he’s adjusting to the pace of college hockey,” said Caps general manager George McPhee, who watched Friday night as the wing’s Boston University team upset second-ranked Boston College 3-2. “We’ll take our time and allow them to develop him. It looks like [coach] Jack Parker is doing an excellent job with him. We’ll just sit back and watch.”

Bourque, a freshman, has played in all 15 Terriers games with three goals (two on power plays) and 12 points. More impressively, the player with a chippy reputation is playing a much more disciplined game with just nine minor penalties in 15 games. He was drafted by the Caps early in the second round last June.

Fehr, picked 18th overall in 2003, appears to have recovered fully from offseason wrist surgery. He has 25 goals and 39 points in 27 games for the Brandon (Manitoba) Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League. Green, a solid defensive defenseman, has 23 points in 29 games for Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and is a gaudy plus-26 defensively. He was picked 29th overall by the Caps last June.

Ovechkin, the first overall pick in the June draft, is playing for Dynamo Moscow in the Russian Super League as a 19-year-old and is second on the team in scoring with 10 goals and 22 points in 29 games.

Hedman was taken by the Caps in the fifth round and is in his second season with MoDo in the Swedish Elite League. The defenseman has one goal and four points in 26 games. Guggisberg is a rare Swiss draftee. He has 11 goals and 16 points in 27 games for Davos.

Goodbye, Maritimes — The Portland Pirates will eliminate a good portion of their travel after this weekend when they make their final trip to the Canadian Maritimes. The Caps’ top farm team in the American Hockey League plays Friday and Saturday in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the last time Portland is scheduled to visit Atlantic Canada this season and perhaps forever.

Not long ago there were several AHL outposts in the Maritimes. There were teams in Fredericton, Moncton and St. John, New Brunswick; and Cape Breton and Halifax, Nova Scotia, besides the stop in Newfoundland. But travel to and from the Maritimes was long, harsh, unpredictable and expensive. There were almost no direct flights, and even when there were, horrible weather conditions often eliminated them.

The Pirates leave tomorrow for Friday’s game. The trip includes a bus ride of more than 100 miles followed by three flights, then another bus ride (and the same thing in reverse Sunday en route home). The time consumed plus the expense involved demanded better, saner arrangements.

The AHL is abandoning the Maritimes. St. John’s — not to be confused with St. John — is the last outpost. The team is owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs and will move to Canada’s largest city for next season. Then the longest trip in the Pirates’ Atlantic Division will be to Hartford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass.

Portland, by the way, is in the process of signing former Caps defenseman J.F. Fortin to a 25-game tryout contract. Fortin had been playing in a pickup league in Quebec while semi-retired but was talked into giving it another try when Portland’s injury problems along the blue line reached epidemic proportions. He’ll need about 10 days to get into some form of shape, a problem for him in the past, then show what he’s got.



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