LEWISTON – Marc-Andre Cliche has had to earn everything he’s achieved in hockey the hard way.

As a 16-year-old with the Lewiston Maineiacs, Cliche fought for playing time on a “kid line” with Mathieu Aubin and Pierre-Luc Faubert. The following year, he battled through a pair of tough injuries until surgery finally shut him down.

Passed over for the Under-18 Canadian national squad because of that injury, Cliche battled to regain his strength last year, his first full, healthy season with the Lewiston Maineiacs.

After assuming the team captaincy midway through last season, he earned an invitation to Team Canada’s summer evaluation camp, where the organization whittled down its list of fall invitees.

Despite performing well there, and at the two Canada-Russia Challenge games in November, Cliche was still surprised Monday when he was named one of the 34 skaters who will compete for 20 spots on Team Canada’s World Junior Championship roster starting next week.

“This something really big in Canada, really big for everyone,” said Cliche. “It was still a surprise for me, even though I had two good games against the Russians. In that game, we got our chances, and we put the puck in the net and played well defensively.”

“We,” in that case, was Cliche, Val d’Or’s Brad Marchand and Claude Giroux of Gatineau. All three made the tryout roster, along with five other Quebec Major Junior Hockey League players: Kristopher Letang of Val d’Or, Luc Bourdon of Moncton, Mathieu Perreault of Acadie-Bathurst and Angelo Esposito of Quebec.

Also joining Cliche in Calgary from Dec. 10-15 is teammate Jonathan Bernier, currently the No. 1 goaltender in the league with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. Bernier’s spot was widely regarded as a formality, though, after he backstopped Canada in the Under-18 championships last spring.

“It’s always exciting,” said Bernier. “This is the biggest thing for people our age in the world.”

Bernier is hoping that his previous experience will count for something in a crowded goaltending crease in Calgary.

“If it’s close, maybe they look at my experience at the world level,” said Bernier. “These are the best goalies in Canada, so it will be hard, but I am hoping I can make it through and play for my country.”

Cliche, meanwhile, is hoping to make a name for himself, as he has in Lewiston, as a defensive forward.

“Like I always said, if you don’t get out of your house, you can’t go to play on the playground,” said Cliche. “I am not going to be there looking to score goals. I will be there to be intense and play well defensively.”

Maineiacs’ head coach Clem Jodoin is an assistant coach for Team Canada.

“The door is open for them now,” said Jodoin. “Now they have to push through to make the team.”

All three will leave from Rimouski following the Maineiacs’ game Friday night, drive to Montreal and then fly to Alberta on Sunday morning, in time for the afternoon skate.

For the tryout, Cliche and Bernier will miss a total of four games – one in Bathurst on Sunday, and three home games against Saint John, Val d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda.

“Lewiston has a good team this year,” said Cliche. “We have a deep team and everyone on the team can step up and play well, so I am not worried about missing the time, because I trust my teammates.”

If either player makes the final roster, they will also miss at least five more games for the World Junior Championships, which are in Sweden this year. The gold medal game of that tournament is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 5.

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