Frustrated by four years of failing to win the gold medal at the world junior hockey championship, culminating in no medal at all this year, Hockey Canada has revamped its development program.
In addition to naming Brent Sutter as the coach of the 2014 world junior team, Dale Hunter was brought into the program as coach of the under-18 Canadian team for the Ivan Hlinka tournament in August and a management group was named to overlook the under-17, under-18 and under-20 (junior) programs. It is the latter move which should have the biggest long-term impact, as it heralds a change in direction for the feeder teams to the Canadian world junior representatives.
"Canada has to get better," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said at a news conference Thursday in announcing the changes.
The hockey operations for the Canadian under-17, under-18 and under-20 teams were placed under the control of three junior hockey owner-executives (Joël Bouchard, general manager of Blainville-Boisbriand in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Bruce Hamilton, GM of Kelowna in the Western Hockey League and Mark Hunter, GM of London in the Ontario Hockey League) and Sean Burke, goaltending coach and assistant to the GM of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes.
Ryan Jankowski, who was an amateur scout for the Montreal Canadiens, replaces Kevin Prendergast as the head scout of the men's Program of Excellence, which incorporates all three teams.
Hockey Canada wants a more national approach, particularly with the under-17 and under-18 teams, in order to get the young players accustomed to each other and one playing style at an earlier age.
"We wanted to make sure we're identifying our best players, not the best players by region but the best players in the country," said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada's senior director of hockey operations and national teams. "We want players across country intermixed at an earlier age to give us the opportunity to have one streamlined message to those players. At the end of the day it gives us the best opportunity to be successful with those players."
Sutter, 51, is the owner and head coach of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels and has a lot of experience in the world junior tournament. He was head coach of Canada's 2012 team and won gold medals as head coach of the 2005 and 2006 teams.
"There's no question with other countries there is a tremendous amount of parity at the world -junior level and other levels," Sutter said. "It's a lot tougher now, a lot tougher than it was back in 2000 through the mid-2000s."
Nicholson called Hunter's addition to the program "overdue." This is the first time Hunter, 52, has been involved with Hockey Canada despite the fact he is one of the most successful owners and coaches in junior hockey. He and his brother Mark won the 2005 Memorial Cup with the London Knights in 2005 and have three appearances in the junior championship tournament. Hunter was also selected the OHL coach-of-the-year in 2004, 2005 and 2010.