Two months after taking the job as Canada’s general manager for the upcoming IIHF world hockey championship, Yzerman is still getting a feel for the position. “It’s been a real learning experience for me,” he said Tuesday night from Winnipeg. “Just in calling a hockey player and inviting him or talking to coaches and other general managers.
“Everything is new to me. A lot of these situations I’m handling for the first time.”
Fortunately, he hasn’t had to go it alone.
With the help of Hockey Canada, Yzerman has put together an experienced staff to help ease the transition. He’s sought advice on players from three current NHL general managers – Doug Armstrong (Dallas), John Ferguson (Toronto) and Jacques Martin (Florida), who will serve as Yzerman’s assistant for the tournament.
The former Red Wings star has also drawn on advice from Detroit GM Ken Holland, who put together the Canadian team that finished fourth in Latvia a year ago.
“I’ve got a lot of resources to go to for guidance,” said Yzerman. “It’s been really helpful for me. I’m trying to make as few mistakes as possible along the way.”
So far, so good.
Five players have committed to the team and several more will do the same in the coming week or so. Filling out that roster is currently Yzerman’s main priority so he’s been learning a little about calling players.
“Sometimes I hang up the phone and think, ‘I wish I’d of done it this way. I wish I’d of done it that way,”‘ he said.
Canada opens the tournament in Moscow with a game against Germany on April 28. Yzerman doesn’t yet know what type of team he’ll end up with on the ice that night.
Last year’s squad was a young one that included the likes of Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes. The team that will compete in Russia this year is still very much a work in progress.
“I’m trying to get the best players that are available,” Yzerman said. “I’m not sure what the roster’s going to end up being.
“It’s just going to keep evolving.”
The rookie GM also plans on consulting with head coach Andy Murray – another man with a plenty of international experience.
It will be Murray’s fourth time as a head coach for Canada at the world championship. He’s won gold twice, in 1997 and 2003.
“We really have to work together,” Yzerman said of Murray. “I want to put a team on the ice that he’s comfortable with.”
Murray is certainly comfortable in international competition. He coached six Canadian teams to Spengler Cup titles, spent two years as the national team coach and was an assistant at the Nagano Olympics – a team Yzerman played for.
The 55-year-old currently coaches the St. Louis Blues and has had quite a year.
Murray was a colour commentator for CBC during last year’s playoffs, started this season as a consultant for the Montreal Canadiens and was hired by the Blues in December. Now he’s headed to Moscow.
“It’s kind of been a whirlwind,” said Murray. “I never, ever planned this year that I’d be an NHL coach or doing this.”
He’s so grateful for the opportunity that he told Yzerman he’d drive the team bus.
Murray has had a long association with Hockey Canada and never worried that the gold-medal team he coached at the 2003 worlds would be his last.
He’s always looking ahead so the thought never crossed his mind. During the rare occasion he looks back, he doesn’t reflect on any particular team or moment.
“I’ve had so many great experiences with Team Canada,” said Murray. “I wouldn’t rate the gold medals above the other teams because I think when you do that, it’s showing disrespect for all the other players that you coached.
“I just think that every time you have that opportunity, it’s special. And it’s obviously real nice when the last game you play in a tournament is a win.”
It’s the ultimate goal. Canada last left the tournament with a gold medal in 2004.
The effort to repeat that feat this spring is truly a team effort. Yzerman is at the helm, Murray will be pushing some of the buttons and several others will guiding them along the way.
“I’ve just tried to put as many people in there that have experience internationally as possible,” said Yzerman.