Hockey Canada is going back to the coach who laid golden eggs two years in a row.
Red Deer Rebels general manager/head coach Brent Sutter will run the Canadian bench at the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship in Sweden. The appointment was to be made official during a press conference this morning in Toronto.
“(Hockey Canada president) Bob Nicholson contacted me three weeks ago and we sat down and talked about this at length,” Sutter said on Tuesday, as he drove to Calgary to board a flight to Toronto.
“Nothing was done earlier because this involves the Canadian Hockey League, too, and Hockey Canada was trying to restructure some things. When they got their structure kind of in place, they approached me and asked me if I wanted to coach the team.”
Sutter was the Canadian team bench boss for world junior gold-medal triumphs in 2005 in Grand Forks, N.D., and the following year in Vancouver.
“It’s run a little differently now. There’s a management staff involved and I’m one of five or six guys who could end up being on that staff and I’m also coaching the team,” he said.
Still, Sutter and his assistant coaches — Ryan McGill and Benoit Groulx — will have the final say in player selection.
“At the end of the day, after everything is discussed and there’s been a great dialogue with everybody, the coaching staff will have to decide on the final selection of the team,” said Sutter.
McGill rejoined the Kootenay Ice last summer and is the reigning Western Hockey League coach of the year. He was also an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames when Sutter was the head man from 2009 to last year.
“Ryan did an outstanding job with Kootenay and he has a lot of experience at both the pro and junior level,” said Sutter.
Groulx is the head coach of the QMJHL Gatineau Olympiques and along with current New Jersey Devils mentor Pete DeBoer was an assistant to Sutter during the 2007 Canada/Russia Super Series.
“These guys are a great fit. It’s a good staff,” said Sutter.
The success of the 2005 team started a run of five straight world junior championships for Canada, but the national squad hasn’t struck gold since 2009.
Perhaps Sutter’s approach to selecting and then preparing the team will reap the ultimate reward in the 2014 championship, which starts on Boxing Day.
“There’s so much heat and pressure put on these players, these kids … on the entire team, including the staff, because Canada expects to win every year,” he said. “We know what the ultimate goal is and yet that’s not what you focus in on. You focus in on the process to get to that point.
“That has to be in place and my only concern right now is identifying the players we want to invite to our summer camp starting Aug. 3 in Montreal.”
Immediately following the two-day summer camp, the players will participate in a four-team, round-robin tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y., an event also involving the United States, Sweden and Finland.
“That’s where you start the process and then when December comes along, you continue that during the final selection camp,” said Sutter.
“At the end of the day, the final result will be the final result. First, it’s about making sure the process is carried out and done right. We have to make sure we have the type of team we want to have and we have to have our system down. We have to make sure that players know — both when they come to camp and when they leave — what’s expected of them from myself and the staff.”
The prestigious post doesn’t come without its drawbacks, the most glaring being that Sutter will have to leave his WHL club for roughly a month.
“With the worlds being overseas, there’s an extra commitment you have to make and that’s being away from the (Rebels) for about eight games, and not just as a coach but also away from the organization as a general manager,” he said. “The (WHL) trade deadline of Jan. 10 is just five days after the end of the world championship.”
But Sutter isn’t concerned about the Rebels floundering in his absence.
“When you have good people around you it makes it easier to accept this type of position,” he said, in reference to associate coach Jeff Truitt and newly-hired assistant coach Steve O’Rourke.
“We have an experienced coaching staff so I’m comfortable with doing this. I wouldn’t have taken the position if I wasn’t comfortable.”
The Rebels boss is also confident that director of scouting and player development Randy Peterson, senior scout Shaun Sutter and senior vice-president Merrick Sutter will have no problem handling the managing duties while he is with the national junior team.
Sutter insisted he will have the same message for the 2014 players as he did in 2005 and ’06.
“It’s a short experience, it happens quickly,” he said. “Every game is like a Game 7, but the reality is you try to get better every day throughout the tournament so that you’re at your best if you get to the dance (gold-medal game).
“But you have to work at it and go through the process to get there. I’m excited about it. When you’ve been through it before, you know what to expect because you know how it works.”