As Hockey Canada's head scout for its national men's teams, Al Murray crosses the country looking for talented, young players.
A few years ago he simply had to leave his house, drive four blocks down Regina's Assiniboine Avenue, make a right turn, then a left and - voila - he could have watched Jordan Eberle playing road hockey with a group of neighbourhood kids that likely included two of Murray's sons, Jake and Troy.
"I missed those shinny games," said Murray, who helped assemble a group of 35 players (including Eberle) scheduled to begin arriving here today for the Canadian junior team's selection camp.
"I've known Jordan since he was maybe eight years old. Jordan used to play hockey with Jake; some years they would play summer hockey together. Since Jordan was 10 his hockey sense has been so far ahead of everybody else's that, even back then, I'm going to say that I knew he was going to be this good."
Canada is pursuing its sixth consecutive gold medal in the world junior hockey championships, which run Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Regina and Saskatoon. Eberle was instrumental in last year's victory, scoring a last-second goal to force overtime and adding a shootout marker to beat Russia 5-4 in the semi-final game.
"It's special, it was a big goal for us, for Canada, and it allowed us to keep going," Eberle said. "It was the biggest goal I've scored." Because they live in Regina, Murray and Eberle have been getting lots of extra attention as camp approached, but they don't have to serve as tour guides.
"I chose not to meet them at the airport, so pretty well my duties will be coffee and sandwiches," Murray said with a laugh.
"Actually, once the team's camp roster is set - and I certainly don't do that singularly because we get lots of help from CHL people, NHL people and our coaching staff - then I'm here more as a resource for the coaches."
Eberle's family moved from Regina to Calgary four years ago, but except for one year he has stayed here and lived with his grandparents.
"I claim Regina as my hometown and I'm looking forward to playing for a sixth straight in front of hometown, home-province fans," Eberle said. "I grew up here, went to school here, played hockey here. That doesn't mean I'll tell everybody where we should go in Regina. I've got a car, but I think we'll get the bus going instead. I'm also going to be in the hotel with my teammates."
Eberle is a star forward with the Regina Pats. He was slated to play a WHL game last night against the Medicine Hat Tigers and return home with Pats defenceman Colten Teubert, another returning veteran with the Canadian team.
Canada's head coach, Willie Desjardins, a native of Climax, Sask., and most of the team's hierarchy were slated to arrive yesterday. Off-ice meetings are planned with the players today.
The team will be using the Pats' facilities inside Regina's Brandt Centre, beginning with practices and intra-squad games slated for tomorrow and Monday. According to Murray, there could be cuts made Tuesday morning, before the team plays an exhibition game that night against a combined squad from the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina.
The final roster should be determined by Thursday, allowing the players to conduct team-building exercises in the area.
The official team will play three pre-competition games (two in Regina, one in Calgary) before moving to Saskatoon's Credit Union Centre on Dec. 23 for its round-robin games.
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