Canada returns to Sutter seeking WJC success
After a third straight third-place finish at the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2004, it marked seven years Canada had gone without a gold medal at the elite under-20 international tournament.
For the 2005 WJC, Hockey Canada chose Brent Sutter as coach. The subsequent changes Sutter helped bring about led to a run of five straight gold medals.
Now, mired in another slump -- no gold since 2009; no medal of any kind last year, the first time that happened since 1998 -- Hockey Canada has turned back to Sutter for the 2014 World Juniors, to be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2014, in Malmo, Sweden.
Sutter again has brought his own thoughts to the process of building the national junior team, starting with a trip to Lake Placid, N.Y., to take part in USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp. Canada will spend Aug. 4-5 working at the Montreal Canadiens' practice facility in Brossard, Quebec, then travel to Lake Placid, where 32 players will practice and play exhibition games Aug. 6-10 against teams from the United States, Finland and Sweden.
It's a drastic change from previous years, when Hockey Canada would bring in two teams worth of players and have them battle head-to-head.
"The whole concept is different," Sutter told NHL.com. "This concept is totally different than what was accustomed to. Instead of doing an evaluation camp of 44 or whatever players they've done in the past and playing against each other, now you take your  guys and you go in there and you go in as one team. You have an opportunity to evaluate everyone within a team concept, where everyone is together, everyone is a group. You go in there, represent your country. It's summer exhibition games, but very meaningful games as far as players showcasing themselves and seeing where you're at and what you have.
"It doesn't matter if it's the true tournament or an exhibition, whenever you play another country, games are certainly more intense. We want to be an intense team, we want to be a team that's well-prepared, we want to be a quick team. This is going to give us an idea of what we have."
Sutter has one player from last year making the trip to Lake Placid: goaltender Jake Paterson, who was the third goalie on the team that finished fourth in Ufa, Russia; he never got into a game. Four other returnees will skate the first two days in Brossard: forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, and defensemen Griffin Reinhart and Morgan Rielly.
Sutter said the lack of returning players isn't something that affects him, citing his past experience of winning gold medals at the 2005 and 2006 World Juniors with groups that had different levels of experience.
"The 2005 team, we had 13 returning players from 2004 when they won the silver medal," he said of a roster that included Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Dion Phaneuf. "You're sitting there and saying what fits best with those 13 key guys. … In 2006 we had a completely new group. We had 21 new players, so you really had to evaluate what you had. The only returning guy was Cam Barker."
Paterson, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick, is one of three goalies who will travel to Lake Placid, along with Winnipeg Jets prospect Eric Comrie and Montreal Canadiens draft pick Zachary Fucale.
However, an invitation to the summer camp in no way means any of the three has locked down a trip to Sweden.
"You hope that two of those three guys will step up, but they've got to have real good first halves of the year," Sutter said of the upcoming season. "I don't want us to be selecting our goaltenders in August. What happens if they falter and don't play well in the first half of the year? … These three guys are now in the starting blocks, but they have to run the race until December. They can't fail to run that. That's my mindset in selecting goaltenders."
He then cited another example from his past: "The goalies that came to camp in August [prior to the 2005 and 2006 tournaments], none of them were on our team in December."
The same goes for players at other positions.
"When everyone leaves here, they're going to understand that if they're going to play on the team what their role is going to be," Sutter said. "So when they go back, some of them are going to play much larger roles than they may if they're playing on the World Junior team, but we've got to be able to see, when we're evaluating them, when we're going through this process, that they're able to handle playing in those roles on the team.
"There's guys that are going to play on the third and fourth lines that are going to have to be checkers and good penalty killers, guys who on their club team might have played 20, 25 minutes a night, playing every power play, but on the World Junior team they might not be playing on the power play, they might be penalty killers. So you've got to find the right mix."
Included in that mix could be the two youngest players at the camp: Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart (17) and Erie Otters center Connor McDavid (16).
Reinhart is expected to be the first pick of the 2014 NHL Draft after an outstanding season in the WHL then captaining Canada to the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. McDavid, who made his debut in the Ontario Hockey League last season after being granted exceptional-player status from Hockey Canada, is expected to be the first pick at the 2015 NHL Draft. He's bidding to be the first 16-year-old to play on Canada's World Junior team since Crosby in 2004.
"These two players are elite-level players," Sutter said. "Where they fit in or what happens through it all is yet to be determined. These kids as young players, they're elite players. … It's an elite tournament, and players like that, they come and they play well in it. I'm not too worried about that at all.
"To be quite honest, I'd be shocked if neither one of them was on the team just because of their skill sets and how good they are."
How good Canada is at the 2014 World Junior Championship remains to be seen, but Sutter is hopeful the changes that have come along with his return bring about past success.
"It's great to have change, as long as the change is for the right reasons," Sutter said. "… There's so much talk around the players and the staff and the team all the time about that end result, and that's what we have to get some of that focus off and focus in on the day-to-day things and what we're about and form our identity. That's what from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10 is going to be about. What are we going to be, how are we going to play, what type of players do we want to play with and how do we want to play."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
2014 CANADA NATIONAL JUNIOR CAMP ROSTER
GOALIES: Eric Comrie, Tri-City, WHL (Winnipeg); Zachary Fucale, Halifax, QMJHL (Montreal); Jake Paterson, Saginaw, OHL (Detroit)
DEFENSEMEN: Mathew Dumba, Red Deer, WHL (Minnesota); Matthew Finn, Guelph, OHL (Toronto); Dillon Heatherington, Swift Current, WHL (Columbus); Slater Koekkoek, Windsor, OHL (Tampa Bay); Darnell Nurse, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL (Edmonton); Michael Matheson, Boston College, HE (Florida); Joshua Morrissey, Prince Albert, WHL (Winnipeg); Derrick Pouliot, Portland, WHL (Pittsburgh); Ryan Pulock, Brandon, WHL (New York Islanders); *Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton, WHL (New York Islanders); *Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw, WHL (Toronto); Damon Severson, Kelowna, WHL (New Jersey)
FORWARDS: *Jonathan Drouin, Halifax, QMJHL (Tampa Bay); Max Domi, London, OHL (Phoenix); Brendan Gaunce, Belleville, OHL (Vancouver); Frederik Gauthier, Rimouski, QMJHL (Toronto); Felix Girard, Baie-Comeau, QMJHL (Nashville); Bo Horvat, London, OHL (Vancouver); Charles Hudon, Chicoutimi, QMJHL (Montreal); Mark Jankowski, Providence, HE (Calgary); Scott Laughton, Oshawa, OHL (Philadelphia); Curtis Lazar, Edmonton, WHL (Ottawa); Brendan Leipsic, Portland, WHL (Nashville); Anthony Mantha, Val-d'Or, QMJHL (Detroit); Connor McDavid, Erie, OHL (2015 draft eligible); *Nathan MacKinnon, Halifax, QMJHL (Colorado); Sean Monahan, Ottawa, OHL (Calgary); Nicolas Petan, Portland, WHL (Winnipeg); Emile Poirier, Gatineau, QMJHL (Calgary); Sam Reinhart, Kootenay, WHL (2014 draft eligible); Ryan Rupert, London, OHL (Toronto); Kerby Rychel, Windsor, OHL (Columbus); Hunter Shinkaruk, Medicine Hat, WHL (Vancouver); Tom Wilson, Plymouth, OHL (Washington)
* -- taking part only in first two days of camp
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor