WEST Vancouver buddies Morgan Rielly and Griffin Reinhart will get to live out the dream of every young Canadian hockey player over the next three weeks as members of Team Canada for the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
The two defencemen have played a lot of hockey together since they first met as four-year-olds in Hollyburn Country Club's Cookie Monsters program, so it's fitting the pair will reunite once more on the biggest stage there is in this NHL lockout season.
"Whatta dream come true . . . lost for words" Rielly tweeted after Hockey Canada announced the 23-man roster for the annual under-20 tournament that enthralls fans across the country every year during the holiday season.
Rielly, a member of the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors who was selected fifth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2012 NHL draft, compared that thrilling moment to the honour of being named to Team Canada.
"This is right up there with the draft," Rielly told TSN, Canada's host broadcaster for the tournament. "This is unbelievable."
Reinhart, chosen fourth overall in the same draft, one spot ahead of his old friend, also tweeted out his thoughts after getting the Team Canada call.
"Feels awesome to be named to (Hockey Canada's) world jr team. Thanks for all the congrats. Much appreciated folks," he wrote.
The juniors were slated to finish up their training camp in Calgary on Friday and then fly to Finland for a pre-competition camp on Saturday. Thirty-six players attended the five-day selection camp in Calgary.
This team was even harder to make than in most years because the NHL lockout freed up a number of players who may have been plying their trade in the pros at this time of year. That list includes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Burnaby native who suited up for the North Shore/Burnaby-based Vancouver North West Giants of the B.C. Major Midget League in 2008-09. Last year Nugent-Hopkins scored 52 points in 62 games as a rookie with the Edmonton Oilers. On Friday he was named the captain of the world junior team.
It appears as if Rielly and Reinhart will have different roles for the Canadian team when the tournament kicks off on Boxing Day. Rielly has emerged as one of the team's elite players, sitting out two scrimmages this week with the rest of the "locks" prior to the final cut. The dynamic skater generates a lot of offense from his blueline spot - he's scored 28 points in 33 games with the Warriors this season - and it appears as if he'll be leaned on heavily as one of the team's top-four defencemen.
Reinhart, meanwhile, does not show the same offensive flair - he's picked up 14 points in 31 games with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings - but at six-foot-four and 202 pounds he's a towering presence and has been used as a penalty killer and defensive stopper in previous stints with Hockey Canada age-group teams. TSN team watchers say he will likely start the tournament on the third defensive pair.
The Canadians will be in a tough group that includes Russia, the United States, Germany and Slovakia. They'll open the tournament with a Boxing Day matchup against Germany starting at 1: 30 a.m. PST.
The tournament semifinals are scheduled for Jan. 3 with the final slated for Saturday, Jan. 5 beginning at 5 a.m. PST.
North Vancouver's Colton Sissons, team Captain for the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, was also invited to the Team Canada selection camp but could not attend due to an upper-body injury.