MINSK, Belarus – When Troy Brouwer returned from a vacation during the NHL’s Olympic break, he tuned in to the final few games of Team Canada’s run to gold in Sochi. Understandably, he liked what he saw.
“I think the Olympic team did an absolutely amazing job at showing how Canadians play hockey,” said Brouwer.
Brouwer wasn’t the only one. Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett saw not just a winning style of hockey but something to emulate.
As coach of Canada’s team at the world championship, he wants to follow the path blazed by Mike Babcock and the stars who went undefeated at the Olympics.
“I look at the blueprint from a few months ago in Sochi, the way Canada played: A hard, Canadian style of hockey,” Tippett said in a recent phone interview. “If we can go and try to continue that mindset for our team, I think that would be something that would be crazy not to look at.”
It would be crazy to think any team can duplicate that effort in perfect fashion. Canada’s team for the IIHF world hockey championship won’t have any players from Sochi and this is a different tournament altogether.
Most of the other countries are in the same boat, absent the top-end NHL talent from the Olympics, save for Alex Ovechkin and Sergei Bobrovsky returning for Russia after its disappointing run and others like Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic and Gustav Nyquist of Sweden also going to Minsk.
But that doesn’t change Canaada’s plan for this tournament, which begins with Friday’s opener against France. Kyle Turris isn’t Sidney Crosby, Morgan Rielly isn’t Shea Weber and neither James Reimer nor Ben Scrivens is Carey Price, but the hope is that talented NHL players in their own right can get the same job done.
“I think your team has to have its own identity, but you look at what that team did and the success it had on the big ice and with NHL players, there’s certainly some things that you can use on our team,” Tippett said. “The team that played in Sochi, you could say was one of the best teams in the history of the game, the way they played. You realize we don’t have that same team, but the way they played and their commitment to playing as a team was as strong as anything we’ve seen in a long time. That part of the game can certainly translate into our team.”
The first steps are there. General manager Rob Blake along with assistant GMs Ron Hextall, Brad Treliving and Brad Pascall, like Steve Yzerman and his management team several months ago, looked for forward pairs to put together. Tippett, like Babcock, believes in having a left- and a right-handed shot on each defensive pairing.
In terms of selecting the roster, Blake reiterated the obvious: that unlike the Olympics, an event every healthy player called wants badly to play in, the world championship is more selective. It has been a long NHL season and it’s too much of a grind to expect Sochi Olympians to jump at the chance to play three extra weeks in Minsk.
“You go down to the tier of the younger guys and you get your commitments,” Blake said in a phone interview. “You kind of work around. But Ron Hextall, Brad Treliving and Brad Pascall, the one thing they were pretty passionate about from the beginning is the guys that want to be there, those are the ones that you want.”
That group includes three Maple Leafs: Reimer, Rielly and centre Nazem Kadri, who played on the wing in Canada’s exhibition game Tuesday in Zurich. It also includes in defenceman Braydon Coburn and forwards Brayden Schenn and Matt Read, three Flyers who just wrapped up a seven-game series loss to the Rangers.
The crown jewel of the roster might be one of the final additions: Colorado Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon, the likely Calder Trophy winner who impressed in his first season and first Stanley Cup playoff series. MacKinnon is on the team at age 18 like Crosby was in 2006, when the Penguins star had eight goals and eight assists in nine games.
Even before MacKinnon it was a young team thanks to defencemen Erik Gudbranson, Ryan Ellis, Tyler Myers and Rielly and forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Monahan and Mark Scheifele. Jason Chimera of the Washington Capitals, who won gold at the 2007 worlds in Moscow, is Canada’s oldest player at the age of 35. Chimera’s Capitals teammates Brouwer and Joel Ward are also on the roster.
Chimera, a candidate to be captain, is important to Tippett’s plan for the tournament because he knows what it’s all about.
“The importance of the players who have been over there before and their experiences, especially relating that to our younger players that haven’t had that experience, is going to be a very important part of our preparation,” Tippett said.
The one thing about Canada’s relative international inexperience is that it’s not a rarity here. Aside from Norway, Switzerland and Latvia, which feature national teams with major Sochi flavour, most teams have significant turnover from the Olympics.
Tippett didn’t see that as something Canada can take advantage of. From his experience as an assistant in this tournament, he knows what it means for European players and countries.
“For the players that play in those leagues over there, this is their Stanley Cup playoffs,” Tippett said. “If they win, their country puts a lot of onus on this tournament, and even though the players on our team would look at the Stanley Cup as the greatest thing to play for, you almost have to have that mind-set that the world championships, for a lot of these players over there, that’s their Stanley Cup.
“We’ll make sure that our players know the importance it is to those other teams to win and our competitiveness should be at the same level if we’re going to have a chance to win.”
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