Where does the Canadian junior program go from here? | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaWhere does the Canadian junior program go from here?

Posted: Saturday, January 5, 2013 | 10:49 AM

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Team Canada captain Ryan Nuggent-Hopkins, right, won't return for next year's tourney, but will head coach Steve Spott? (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press) Team Canada captain Ryan Nuggent-Hopkins, right, won't return for next year's tourney, but will head coach Steve Spott? (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

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Not a lot went right for Canada in its final two games at the 2013 IIHF World Under-20 Championship. A 6-5 overtime loss to Russia in the third-place game on Saturday meant that Canada failed to win a medal at the world junior tournament for only the third time in the past 24 years. But Hockey Canada can learn from this and make tweaks to its program.

Whether the Canadian junior team experiences the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, there is always room for introspection for Hockey Canada on what went right and what went wrong.

Not a lot went right for Canada in its final two games at the 2013 IIHF World Under-20 Championship. A 6-5 overtime loss to Russia in the third-place game on Saturday meant that Canada failed to win a medal at the world junior tournament for only the third time in the past 24 years.

When the emotions from this disappointment dissipate over the next few weeks and months, Hockey Canada will conduct a postmortem on why its junior team finished fourth in Ufa, Russia. Hockey Canada did something similar in 1992 when Canada finished sixth and again in 1998 after an embarrassing eighth-place showing.

There is no need for a national hockey summit just because Canada has now gone four years in a row with failing to win gold in this event. These tournaments tend to go in cycles and hockey fans seem to forget that the Canadian junior team went seven years between 1998 and 2004 without reaching the top step of the podium.

But it would be helpful to go beyond a debriefing of head coach Steve Spott and his staff and some players for suggestions. Maybe Steve Yzerman, who guided Canada to gold at the 2010 Olympics as this country's executive director, and other NHL GMs and coaches with a connection to Hockey Canada could be tapped for advice.

Just because Canada had its streak of 14 consecutive medals at the world junior stopped this year doesn't mean Hockey Canada's model is broken. But there are different paths to success to explore and tweaks to be made.

I traded e-mails this morning with two NHL scouts to get their observations and suggestions going forward.

Momentum a factor

Both scouts agreed it was difficult pinpoint one thing that went wrong in Canada's 5-1 loss to the United States in the semifinal on Thursday, the game that sent Canada reeling.

Canada was flat. The U.S. was outstanding. That's the way it goes sometimes in this short-term events in which the playoff round is a one-game knockout.

Out of place?

One of our experts felt that Canada had too many players playing out of position. He felt that the junior team would have been better suited with a middle that consisted of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Scheifele, Ryan Strome and Nathan MacKinnon.

"When Canada won the Olympics in Vancouver, Eric Staal was the only player playing out of position," said one our scouts. "I know Scheifele scored (he led Canada with five goals) playing the wing, but he's one of the most dominant junior centres in the country. Maybe Boone Jenner was more suited with playing the wing."

Interference call on executives?

There also was a concern that Spott and coaches in the past few years have to deal with increasing interference from Hockey Canada executives who are good in the boardroom and good in signing up sponsors, but have little hockey expertise.

"Leave the decisions up to [Hockey Canada's head scout] Kevin Prendergast and the coaching staff. When Brent Sutter took over the team for those two years [in 2005 and 2006] and won, it was his way or the highway," claimed a scout.

Decisions, decisions

There has been plenty of criticism directed at head coach Spott and his staff. Should Spott have called a timeout when Canada fell behind 2-0 in the first period of the semifinal on Thursday? Even though the first three goals were not his fault, should goalie Malcolm Subban have been pulled earlier in the lopsided loss to the U.S., a move simply for the sake of change?

One of our scouts suggested that Hockey Canada hire a mentor, maybe someone like Dave King to be an on-site sounding board at international tournaments. The gold medal-champion United States have Tim Taylor in this role and he no doubt helped an inexperienced Phil Housley, a high school coach, succeed this year.

Coaching change?

Who should Canada turn to next year as coach? When Canada did not win gold between 1998 and 2004, Hockey Canada lassoed Brent Sutter to coach the national junior team. Of course, Sutter steered Canada to back-to-back championships, the first two in a run of five consecutive gold medals.

One of our scouts preferred to see Hockey Canada bring in somebody new and provided a wish list: Bob Boughner (Windsor Spitfires), Dale Hunter (London Knights), Mike Johnston (Portland Winterhawks) and Patrick Roy (Quebec Remparts).

Between the pipes

We asked if there was a Canadian goaltending problem. Backup Jordan Binnington got the call against the host Russians. In his first meaningful start in almost a month, he faltered badly by surrendering three goals on five shots.

Binnington was brilliant in relief in the semifinal loss to the United States with 25 saves on 26 shots on Thursday, but could not follow up that effort with a solid start against the Russians.

Subban replaced Binnington and immediately played well. The Russians threatened to run away with this one, but Subban made a number of stellar saves to allow Canada to regroup and eventually tie the affair twice at 4-4 and 5-5.

Our scouts agreed that goaltending should have been better, but so should have been Canada's team defence in the final two games.

We asked our scouts to provide a list of goalie candidates for next season. Joining the third string goalie from this year's team, Jake Paterson (Saginaw Spirit), this list includes: Daniel Altshuller (Oshawa Generals), Francois Brassard (Quebec Remparts), Eric Comrie (Tri-City Americans), Chris Driedger (Calgary Hitmen), Tristan Jarry (Edmonton Oil Kings) Zach Fucale (Halifax Mooseheads), Spencer Martin (Mississauga Steelheads), Matt Murray (Sault Ste. Greyhounds) and Brandon Whitney (Victoriaville Tigres).

Next year's world junior tournament will be held in Malmo, Sweden. The Canadian junior team will have quite a bit of turnover. Only six players are eligible to return and two of this group, Charles Hudon (back injury) and Paterson, did not play in this year's event.

The other possible returnees include defencemen Griffin Reinhart and Morgan Rielly as well as forwards Jonathan Drouin and MacKinnon. There is a strong possibility that MacKinnon, Drouin and Rielly may find themselves in the NHL next season. Reinhart will be suspended for three more games after a four-game ban he received for a high stick in the game against the U.S.

By the way, Sweden could have as many as 11 returning junior players next year.  The defending champs from the U.S. could have seven players back.

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