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Canada's top NHL prospects will be tired, but game sharp for training camps

Forward Sam Gagner will be on a tour of Western Canada with the Canadian junior team wrapping up the eight-game Super Series against Russia.

The day the Oilers freshman break camp in Yellowknife on Sept. 9 is the same day the Super Series ends in Vancouver, so it will be straight to Edmonton for Gagner, who went sixth overall to the Oilers in the June draft.

"I might be back in time for their exhibition game against the University of Alberta," the London Knights forward said.

Several players on the Canadian junior team will miss all or part of their NHL clubs' rookie camps this year due to the Super Series.

The eight-game series against Russia will be a double-edged sword for the players in their preparation to try and become NHLers as they'll be more mentally and physically game-ready than their peers, but they'll also be exhausted at their training camps.

By the time the Super Series ends, they'll have played eight games in 14 days across several time zones and will have flown thousands of kilometres.

From Omsk, where the Russian leg of the series concludes, to Vancouver is a 14-hour time difference.

"I might get off to a little bit of a slow start as far as impressions go, but I think playing in this I'm going to be in really good game shape going into camp," Gagner said. "I have a lot to prove in my first camp and I think this should really prepare me.

"You try and come to training camp in as good a shape as possible, but practice shape is an entirely different thing from game shape and I think playing in games should only in benefit me."

Game 2 of the Super Series is Wednesday (9 a.m. ET) in Ufa and Jonathan Bernier of the Lewiston Maineiacs will get the start in net.

The Super Series marks the 35th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. Canada beat Russia 4-1 in Game 2 in Toronto to tie that series 1-1.

Bernier will play his first game since he suffered a high ankle sprain in a Memorial Cup tiebreaker game in May. The Los Angeles Kings draft pick had to leave that game and the Maineiacs fell 5-1 to Plymouth.

Canada looks to take a 2-0 lead against the Russians after opening with a 4-2 win Monday with London's Steve Mason in net.

"We have to get a better start though and stay out of the (penalty) box," Bernier said. "I guess they're going to come out stronger than they did last game.

"I have to be ready when they drop the puck."

Leland Irving of the Everett Silvertips will be Bernier's backup Wednesday and head coach Brent Sutter says Irving will start in Friday's Game 3 in Omsk.

The Kings open main camp the day after the Super Series ends, so there will be little rest for Bernier and defenceman Thomas Hickey, who went fourth overall to Los Angeles this year.

"I wouldn't mind a break, but I understand that's part of it," Hickey said. "This series is going to take a lot out of us, but at the same time you can't replace coming to an event like this where you're going to be playing at the highest level for eight games.

"I think I will have a leg up on all the other rookies in main camp just because I'm going to be in a competitive situation here."

Defenceman Karl Alzner doesn't mind missing the first couple days of Washington's rookie camp because they'll be doing a lot of grunt work that he's already done with the Canadian junior team.

"I get to miss the first couple of days where they skate you hard in two-a-days and then I get one tough day and then the 12th is actually a game against the Phillies rookies so I think I luck out probably the best out of all the guys here," he said.

"The nice thing is by the time main camp comes I should be in game shape and ready to go and have a step up on everybody else."

Kingston Frontenacs forward Cory Emmerton, property of the Detroit Red Wings, expects the Super Series will help players in some areas of the fitness testing that kicks off each NHL camp, but could also be a detriment in others.

"The endurance will be fine, but the weights, the bench press we do will be a little bit tougher than maybe the bikes will be," Emmerton said. "My endurance will be getting a lot better from the practices and games, but definitely the weights will be a bit of an issue.

"I'll hopefully get into the weight room a couple times before main camp starts."

Most of the 22 players drafted on the Canadian squad went in the first or second rounds of the NHL draft.

So even if they are fatigued at their NHL camps, their general managers aren't likely to send them back to the junior ranks right away.

They'll get long looks and every opportunity to make their teams because of their high draft status.

Emmerton and Regina Pats defenceman Logan Pyett will miss the Wings' rookie session in Traverse City, but will get a couple of days of rest prior to main camp.

"It will be important for us to get our rest because we'll be pretty tired after eight games," Emmerton said. "The game thing is probably the best part about it. You're going to be ready for the games that we play."


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