TORONTO — The World Cup will be a whole new experience for Hockey Canada.
Doug Armstrong was named general manager of Team Canada on Monday and he said that there’s advantages and challenges to the eight-team event that will be held in Toronto Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 2016.
“It’s going to be exciting knowing that you’re going to get healthy players with energy,” said Armstrong, referring to the early fall start time. “At the Olympics you’re crossing your fingers and hoping that last game you’re not losing players. That’s not going to be the case now. We’re going to get well-rested players.”
The event, hosted by the NHL and NHLPA, has some tweaks to its formatting. Traditional hockey powers Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden, and the United States will have teams, but two all-star teams will also compete. An all-European lineup of players from unrepresented countries will play, as well as a team of North American players 23 years old and younger.
“I’m really excited about the format for this event,” said Armstrong after a news conference in downtown Toronto. “When you go to some international events, some of the games aren’t maybe as competitive as other games. At this one, certainly, all games are going to be competitive and you jump right in to having to play your way in to the playoffs. It’s going to be a great challenge and we’re going to have to be ready to play right off the bat.”
Armstrong will balance his day job as GM of the St. Louis Blues with his Team Canada responsibilities. He’ll get help from Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray, Los Angeles Kings assistant Rob Blake and Hockey Canada vice-president Scott Salmond.
Armstrong and Holland return from the management group that put together the undefeated, gold-medal-winning 2014 Sochi Olympic team. Blake served as Canada’s GM for the 2014 world championships. Bergevin played for Canada in international competition, but this is his first management post.
When asked why Armstrong was picked to lead Canada’s team-building process Hockey Canada president and CEO Tom Renney pointed to a few key skills.
“His ability to help contribute to what a roster looks like, a winning roster looks like,” said Renney. “The cohesiveness that he brings from that position through the rest of the management group. These are outstanding men, every single one of them could manage this team on their own without a doubt, the bottom line is that someone has to take the lead. We felt strongly about Doug’s commitment to the program.”
The rules and playing surface of the World Cup will also be different from most international hockey competitions. An NHL-sized rink of 200 feet by 85 feet will be used, unlike most Olympics and world hockey championships which use the larger international standard of 200 feet by 100 feet.
“I think that’s going to benefit us because all of our players will be NHL players and they’re going to understand that format,” said Armstrong. “But when you look at the international players that are going to be playing here, the majority of them will have NHL experience. We’re going to pick the best players that can play, but I know our guys are extremely comfortable on the playing surface.”
The event will use a hybrid of NHL and international rules, but Armstrong says the logistics of that haven’t been worked out yet. Part of Salmond’s responsibilities will be to work with organizers on how the two styles blend together.
Armstrong says there’s nearly unanimous agreement about who Canada’s top 16 players will be. He plans to announce who those players are as early as March 1, but wants to have a coaching staff in place before then so he can have their input on the roster as well.
“As far as names for the (coaching) staff, there’s a lot of great candidates,” said Armstrong. “You have Mike Babcock, who’s represented Canada at the last two Olympics and won. You’ve got Joel Quenneville, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, Darryl Sutter who’s won two Stanley Cups, Alain Vigneault who’s won two Presidents’ Trophies with different teams, and the list goes on and on.”
Two big name players that will not be on that roster are top prospect Connor McDavid and young Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad, both of whom will presumably play for the under-23 team.