Benoit Groulx says it will take more than flashy statistics to ensure a spot on Canada’s junior hockey team.
The Gatineau Olympiques head coach will lead Canada in its quest to end its gold medal drought at the 2015 world junior hockey championship held in Montreal and Toronto at the end of this year.
As Groulx begins naming players to his roster over the next two weeks, he wants to look beyond goals and assists when sending out invitations to training camp. He and the rest of the coaching staff are looking to reinvent the selection process that has proved unsuccessful in the last tournaments.
“Recent history has shown us that being a hundred-point guy on a first line is no longer enough at the Juniors,” Groulx said from Montreal on Thursday, after Hockey Canada introduced him as the team’s head coach. “Our players have to raise their game. These are players who will one day be in the National Hockey League. They have the talent, but can they elevate their play?
“That’s the message we’re sending. The level we’ve competed at these last few years simply wasn’t enough.”
Canada is suffering through a five-year gold medal drought at the tournament after winning five consecutive years between 2005 and 2009. The team’s last medal, a bronze, came in 2012.
Groulx was an assistant coach at the 2014 junior championship in Malmo, Sweden, where Canada finished fourth after losing to Russia in the bronze-medal game. The 46-year-old says only elite players can challenge for the top of the podium.
“We need guys who are self-driven, who are relentless, guys who want to make the difference,” said the Hull, Que., native. “We need hundred-point players who are ready to make changes, ready to play out of their comfort zones. To win that championship, you need world-class players.”
Canada has 11 players eligible to return from last year’s squad, including goalie Zachary Fucale and forwards Jonathan Drouin, Curtis Lazar and NHL prospect Sam Reinhart. The team’s one-week development camp begins Aug. 9 in Montreal.
The Canadians will also host an exhibition tournament involving the Russian and Czech national junior teams which will be held in Montreal and Sherbrooke, Que. The goal is to keep competitiveness high as the world junior championship approaches.
“Those are two great countries, two teams that we lost to last year,” said Hockey Canada’s Scott Salmond. “Any time you can bring those teams back in a competitive environment, and send a message to them, it’s great. It’s not a summer camp, it’s a competition, and we want to play there to win.”
After the exhibition games, Canada opens the 11-day tournament on Dec. 26 with a group game against Slovakia in Montreal. Canada will play its four round-robin matches at Montreal’s Bell Centre.
The Canadians are in Group A with the United States, Finland, Slovakia and Germany.
Toronto will welcome teams from Group B, which includes Russia, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Switzerland. The gold-medal game will take place at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 5.
Groulx wouldn’t guarantee Canada would make it to the ACC for that final, but he is relishing the opportunity to play in front of the home crowd.
Incidentally, Groulx would have coached a national junior team on home soil in 2009 had he not resigned. After initially accepting Hockey Canada’s invitation, he later took a head coach position with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.
Groulx says there’s no changing course this time around.
“Montreal and Toronto are two of the most passionate sports cities in Canada, and even in North America,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge that I look forward to. Pressure will be good for us. When’s there’s pressure like that, people are very aware of it. Playing in Montreal and Toronto forces us to prepare adequately.
“People in Canada expect us to win. For us, that’s the ultimate. But our focus is on the process more than anything else.”
Notes: With 15 gold medals, Canada is the most successful country in the competition’s 38-year history. a Dave Lowry (Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League) and Scott Walker (Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League) will be Groulx’s assistant coaches. a Finland won last year’s tournament, beating Sweden in the final game. a Groulx took the Gatineau Olympiques to three Memorial Cup appearances, in 2003, 2004 and 2008. ... Hockey Canada also named the coaching staff for Canada’s under-18 team. Head coach Derek Laxdall will be joined by assistants Jody Hull and Eric Veilleux.