The fraternity of men who assemble Canadian hockey teams is growing.
Joe Nieuwendyk and Pierre Gauthier have each joined Doug Armstrong’s management staff for the 2009 IIHF World Hockey Championship. They’ve both assumed the role of assistant general manager but will have a big say in decisions concerning the team.
“My belief in management is that titles aren’t overly relevant,” Armstrong said Monday from St. Louis. “We’re all in this together. Working with Joe and Pierre, I sort of see us as co-workers on this.
“We’re going to put this team together, together.”
It’s the same approach that has been used by Hockey Canada for a number of years.
Even though this will be Nieuwendyk’s first official experience in an executive role with the national program, he was among the people that Steve Yzerman tapped for information while putting together this year’s world championship team. There are no shortage of available resources in Canadian hockey circles.
“I think it’s a case where you don’t think you know everything,” said Nieuwendyk. “Because it’s Hockey Canada, you get a lot of people that you respect that have their input.”
The Olympic gold medallist and three-time Stanley Cup winner retired from the NHL in 2006 and is now working as an executive with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He appears to be following in the footsteps of men like Yzerman, Wayne Gretzky and Kevin Lowe, who have all assumed key roles in the national program after their playing careers.
Gauthier has already achieved the objective this group will have – winning a world championship gold medal. The veteran hockey executive managed the team that won in 1997 along with the squad that took silver in 1996.
He has an affinity for an event that often struggles for attention in Canada because it’s held at the same time as the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“There’s huge, huge interest in the world championships in Europe and other parts of the world,” said Gauthier. “When you’re there, you see the national spirit of the people. And the interest, how big it is.”
His current role as assistant GM of the Montreal Canadiens fits in nicely with the work he’ll do for the national team because his main job is scouting NHL games.
Armstrong plans to rely on Gauthier’s strong knowledge of the league when making roster decisions in the spring. He expects Nieuwendyk to help round out the process by providing insights he’s gleaned from competing against many of the men they’ll be discussing.
The team won’t be unveiled very long before the tournament starts in Switzerland on April 24, but Armstrong already has a clear vision for what kind of character it will have.
“We’re going to want to have players that we know not only can perform on the ice, but are going to be excellent teammates and want to come with us as we try and win that gold medal,” he said.
This should be a particularly important world championship tournament because it will be the last chance for players to make an impression on the international stage before the 2010 Olympics.
Armstrong is part of the group that will choose the Canadian Olympic team and expects the other top executives – Yzerman, Lowe and Ken Holland – to keep a close eye on the world championship as well. However, everyone involved will do their best not to let talk of the Olympics overshadow the event itself.
“It is a feeder system and a proving ground for players that would like to make the Olympic team,” said Armstrong. “But with that being said, our focus isn’t the Olympics. Our focus is the world championship.
“It’s not a trial for the Olympic team, it’s a team we’re trying to put together to win a gold medal.”
That’s something he was able to personally accomplish at the 2007 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Moscow. He was an assistant on Yzerman’s staff at that event and will be running the show for the first time in 2009.
However, Armstrong insists that a different title won’t change the experience too much. He simply enjoys being part of the large group of people that Hockey Canada calls on for help.
“It’s amazing that fraternity, how you really feel part of something,” said Armstrong.