There was a time, believe it or not, when the Canadian team would win the World Junior Championship more on coaching systems, goaltending and character than talent. Used to happen quite a bit, in fact.
That was back when the hockey world at this level was much bigger and the gap between the countries in this tournament was a lot narrower. But in a case of everything old being new again, that might just be the formula for this year’s Canadian edition for the WJC.
And it’s certainly not due to a lack of talent. There’s plenty of that in the under-20 age group in Canada. But with Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner and Kyle Clifford all playing in the NHL, the Canadian team will have to make due without its most elite junior-aged players.
In fact, this year’s team reminds Stan Butler of the 1999 team that finished with a silver medal after a 3-2 overtime loss to Russia in the gold medal game. That edition of Team Canada was without Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Manny Malhotra, Vincent Lecavalier and Eric Brewer, who were all playing as underage players in the NHL. Butler, twice a head coach for Canada’s WJC team and the GM-coach of the Brampton Battalion, was an assistant along with Claude Julien in 1999 under Tom Renney.
The only player the team got back from the NHL that year was Rico Fata from the Calgary Flames.
“That year we went into the final with Roberto Luongo in goal, six very good defensemen and a group of guys up front who worked really hard,” Butler said. “And I see a lot of that in this year’s group. They’re going to be very good in goal and they’ll be strong on the back end. Their power play will be great with Ryan Ellis back there and up front, they’ll have four balanced lines.”
It should provide an interesting contrast to the American team that goes into the event on home soil as the pre-tournament favorite. The U.S. team figures to have more offensive firepower, while the Canadian team will likely play a tighter checking game that frustrates its opponents.
Much of that will have to do with the man behind the Canadian bench. Dave Cameron is the kind of coach who loves defensive hockey and his teams are always well prepared and play with a high level of intensity and physicality. Butler reckons that if the Canadian and American teams were to play a playoff series, it would probably go the distance with all the games being low-scoring affairs.
And while Hockey Canada has learned many things from its experience in this tournament, one of the most important is that the team has to reflect the philosophy and personality of the coach. So those looking for a team with offensive flair and a gambling mentality will probably be disappointed.
“You’re not going to change the style of a coach in nine days,” Butler said. “And if this team takes on the character of its coach, it will be very defensive, extremely hard working and very disciplined.”
Sounds like the 1990s all over again.
FEHR CLOSE TO BEING MADE OFFICIAL
Donald Fehr's coronation is now down to a matter of days. The league-wide votes are in and Fehr has been ratified by the membership. The final part of the process occurs Tuesday night when a conference call with the player representative from each team is held to give the rubber stamp of final approval. But since four teams play Tuesday, those players will have to be contacted in the next day or so and there should be an announcement by the end of the week.
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