The Edmonton Oilers dynasty will be well represented at the IIHF World Hockey Championship even without The Great One.
Canadian general manager Mark Messier reached into his past and named Craig MacTavish head coach on Tuesday, reuniting the former Oilers teammates for the tournament in Germany. Messier is keen to work with a guy he’s had success with in the past.
“Craig was an easy choice for me because of my relationship with him,” Messier said in an interview. “Knowing him as a person, having played with him and winning Stanley Cups with him, he was always a guy I looked up to as a leader on the team.”
The Moose was hoping Wayne Gretzky might also come along in a coaching or management role, but acknowledged that No. 99 is “not going to be a full-time participant” on the Canadian staff at the tournament.
“He’s obviously had an open invitation to come in and help in any way he wanted, but with his scheduling and things that he’s got going on we felt the best way he could help would be as an adviser like he did with the Olympic team,” said Messier.
The Canadian team is likely to be filled with young players because the event is being held in an Olympic year. The 2006 world championship team featured none of the players who participated a few months earlier at the Games in Turin.
However, that won’t change the country’s golden aspirations.
Canada has appeared in the world championship final six times since 2003, winning three gold medals. It had to settle for silver the past two years after narrowly losing to Russia in consecutive gold-medal games.
“We’ve got enough silvers,” said MacTavish.
The 51-year-old spent nine years coaching the Edmonton Oilers prior to being fired after last season. He had the opportunity to coach Canada’s entry at the Spengler Cup in December and admits he’s missed being behind the bench.
“I needed a break at the end of my last tenure with the Oilers,” said MacTavish. “I’ve had the opportunity to get a good one and now I’m energized again and ready to get back into it. This is a great opportunity to do just that.”
The Canadian team opens the event against Italy on May 8 – a little later than usual. It means that players who are eliminated in the first round of the NHL playoffs will be available for the entire tournament.
Messier will lean heavily on MacTavish and his management staff – which includes former NHL executives Doug Risebrough and Michel Goulet and his father Doug Messier – while making roster decisions.
“It’s got to be a collective effort,” he said. “Everybody has to really be positive about the selections and the team. I don’t expect everybody to agree on everything, but I expect that we’re able to come to some solutions for the benefit of the team.”
The next order of business will be rounding out the coaching and support staff, something Messier hopes to accomplish in the coming weeks.
He’s been on the job since December and has received tips from several others who’ve done it in the past.
“I’ve been speaking with Dougie Armstrong a lot, I spoke with Stevie Yzerman before and after and during the Olympics,” said Messier. “I talked to Kevin Lowe, Wayne, there are so many people that have offered their assistance and experiences that they’ve had.
“I think that’s one of the great things about Canadian hockey – the resources are just endless.”
MacTavish and Messier did a fair bit of winning during their playing careers and hope to experience that feeling again.
“We’ve had lots of success together over the years,” said MacTavish. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to work together again and certainly one that nobody would want to pass up.”