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World juniors preview

The Buffalo News' preview section for the world junior championships is available on newsstands today, with quality print content you won't see online. Here are the online links:

*The region will be the Centre of the Amateur Hockey Universe between now and Jan. 5. Hotels and restaurants are bracing for tens of thousands of visitors in the coming days with WJC-related events scattered across a downtown hockey hotbed that has rolled out its collective welcome mat.

Fans packing into HSBC Arena and Niagara University for the WJC are guaranteed to see the game in its purest form, complete with the speed, skill and competitiveness they crave every night while watching the NHL.

“The one thing that will stand out to most people in Buffalo is the emotional level they’ll see and the quality of play the fans will see,” announcer and world juniors authority Pierre McGuire said. “The quality of play is insane. It’s unbelievable how good it is. You’ll be blown away.”

*Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Kelley, who died last month, prepared an article before his death that welcomes the world to Western New York.

"Hockey: It’s Buffalo and it’s ours. So watch the games, take in the sights, but don’t forget to keep an eye on us. This is your tournament, but it’s our party, and I can tell you from a lifetime of experience that we are primed to enjoy every moment of it. After all, hockey is not only who we are, it’s how we live."

*Some teams shy away from lofty expectations, preferring to play an underdog role. Team USA is fully embracing its status as favorite and defending champion.

“We have a little more confidence,” said forward Jerry D’Amigo, one of eight returning players. “We know we’re going to be the team to beat. That’s what we’re going to have to go through. I think we can handle that, though.”

One of the newcomers is defenseman Nick Leddy, one of the few players in the tournament with experience at an even higher level. Leddy began this season with the Chicago Blackhawks, playing six games against world-class skaters such as Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Columbus’ Rick Nash and Nashville’s Shea Weber. He scored once, too, beating Buffalo goaltender and defending Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller in HSBC Arena.

*Team Canada winger Zack Kassian, Buffalo’s No. 1 pick in 2009, is having a breakout offensive season at Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League. Making this team and playing this event in his future NHL home was one of Kassian’s goals once the Sabres sent him back to junior late in training camp.

“Being in Buffalo, it really makes it that much more exciting and gave me that much more oomph to make this team,” said Kassian, who doesn’t turn 20 until Jan. 24. “I had more determination to take advantage of the chance for people to see me. Now that I’ve made it, my main focus is a gold medal."

All but one player on Team Canada has already been drafted by an NHL team and the lone exception, 18-year-old center Sean Couturier of Drummondville, is the top-rated North American skater for next June’s draft by NHL Central Scouting.

*The team previews for Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Norway are available by clicking here.

*The News' world juniors home page can be found here.

---John Vogl

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