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Team Canada's Brett Connolly gets a hand from head coach Don Hay during the Team White practice at the Canadian national junior hockey team selection camp practice in Calgary, Dec.11, 2011. (Todd Korol/Reuters/Todd Korol/Reuters)
Team Canada's Brett Connolly gets a hand from head coach Don Hay during the Team White practice at the Canadian national junior hockey team selection camp practice in Calgary, Dec.11, 2011. (Todd Korol/Reuters/Todd Korol/Reuters)

Eric Duhatschek

Canadian junior squad shrinks, through cuts and collisions Add to ...

Unexpectedly, Brett Connolly found himself in the spotlight Tuesday morning, a day after his check on a vulnerable Quinton Howden in the second of two world junior intrasquad games left Howden on the sidelines, with a head injury of undisclosed severity.

Connolly was one of the surer bets going into the Team Canada selection camp, same as Howden, given that they were two of just four returning players from the silver medal-winning team last January. Though coach Don Hay indicated the injury wasn’t too serious, it was enough to keep Howden out of the lineup for the final exhibition Tuesday against a Canadian university all-star team, after which the final 22-man roster for the world junior tournament will be set.

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Connolly is in camp, after spending the first third of the season playing in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and feeling a little under the gun after the hit, which was likely worthy of a suspension had it happened in the NHL under new disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.

But as Hay said, Shanahan’s jurisdiction doesn’t extend to Team Canada scrimmages and Connolly indicated that he and Howden settled whatever differences they may have had.

“We’re putting it behind us,” Connolly said. “Me and Quinton have played hard against each other in the Western League, and at NHL camps in Florida. It’s just something that happened. We’re both competitors. He’s going to hit me hard when he gets the chance and I’ll do the same thing to him.”

Altogether, seven players were given pink slips Tuesday morning – defencemen Mathew Dumba, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc and Brenden Kichton, along with forwards Michael Ferland, Mark McNeill, Zack Phillips and Max Reinhart. That left 35 players competing for 22 jobs, and some uncertainty over Howden’s status.

With Florida Panthers draft choice Jonathan Huberdeau also on the shelf, recovering from a foot injury, it leaves the left side in flux and raises the larger question of where the scoring will come from on this edition of Canada’s national team.

Only Mark Stone scored in the second Red-White scrimmage Monday, before Brandon Gormley connected into the empty net. Stone and Huberdeau may be the two most natural scorers on the team, but the latter is not expected on the ice until next week, though his pedigree (third overall pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft) likely earns him a place on the roster.

But Hay indicated that scoring wasn’t a concern for him, at least not yet.

“Offence comes from teamwork,” Hay explained, “and they’re not a team yet. There’s individual skills out there that can display offensive abilities, but you really create offence by playing together and working together and having combinations. I think the offence will come when they play together more.”

The most intriguing questions now centre on the defensive battles. After the cuts Tuesday, 11 rearguards were left to compete for seven positions, with Gormley and Dougie Hamilton projected to play top-four roles on the team.

It will make for some nervous moments overnight, as the final decisions are made and players given the news, good or bad.

Even with the injury worries, Hay indicated he’ll pare the roster to its limit Wednesday and then, if needed, recall some players later on.

“The team starts forming tomorrow [Wednesday]” said Hay. “As we move forward and start our team building, we’ll get closer to becoming a team.”

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

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