When Hockey Canada reached back into its past and installed Brent Sutter as head coach of the national junior team on Wednesday, the program was once again in good hands.
When Hockey Canada finally placed a call to Dale Hunter about coaching the under-18 team -- and you can take it to the bank he'll be the world junior coach down the road -- it was about time. The London Knights co-owner/head coach has been in the junior game since 2001. (I still can't believe Patrick Roy never was asked to be involved, either. He was in the junior game for eight seasons.)
When Hockey Canada added Mark Hunter, Bruce Hamilton, Sean Burke and Joel Bouchard to the junior program of excellence, the governing body made a progressive move. The program of excellence needed more of this country's top-notch hockey people involved in shaping the under-17, under-18 and under-20 national and regional teams.
Bouchard is five years removed from his days as a pro player. He won back-to-back gold medals with the 1993 and 1994 Canadian junior teams and again made it to the podium's top step with Canada at the 1997 world senior championship.
As a player he overcame a case of spinal meningitis and later mercury poisoning. After his retirement, he developed a television program for teaching young players the game, was an RDS analyst, and at 39 has been the president and general manager of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL for the past two years.
Sean Burke also has hockey roots with the Canadian national junior and senior team programs. He was a two-time gold-medal winner at the world senior championships and a silver medalist at the 1992 Olympics.
Since retiring after an 18-year NHL career as a goalie, the 46-year-old has swiftly become one of the game's top goalie coaches. I'm sure he'll have some proper input, too, in turning around this country's troubled goaltending situation.
The 55-year-old Hamilton has been to four Memorial Cups as owner, president and general manager of the Kelowna Rockets, an expansion franchise he helped get off the ground in Tacoma, Wash., in 1991.
Everywhere you look these days in the NHL, it seems there is an elite-level defenceman from the Rockets. Duncan Keith just won another Stanley Cup the other day. Shea Weber is no slouch either. The list goes on.
Mark Hunter, 50, and his younger brother Dale have turned London into a junior hockey hotbed. The two have turned the Knights into a money-making and winning machine. The younger Hunter also has been a head coach in the OHL and NHL.
The importance of leadership
To bring these four aboard in a group with Hockey Canada executives Brad Pascall and Scott Salmond was a stride in the right direction. You have an experienced, successful, thoughtful and caring group of people.
I remember chatting with Darryl Sutter, then the Calgary Flames GM, prior to the 2005 gold-medal world junior game in Grand Forks, N.D. It was Canada's Dream Team (helped by the NHL lockout) versus Alex Oveckin and the Russians. The Canadian team was untouchable at that tournament after losses in the final to Russia and the United States in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
Darryl Sutter told me that the difference this time around was the leadership behind the bench. Not only his brother, but his brother's assistant coach back then, Peter DeBoer, now the bench boss of the New Jersey Devils.
As Darryl kept going on about the importance of leadership behind the bench, especially when coaching teenagers, I was thinking I could have coached that stacked Canadian team to gold that year. But then Brent Sutter did it again the following year in Vancouver. Then Craig Hartsburg won two more as head coach of the Canadian junior team, followed by a fifth championship in a row by Pat Quinn.
These three coaches made a difference then, and Brent Sutter and Mark Hunter will make a difference now.
Finally, it was neat to see 38-year-old Ryan Jankowski return to the program as chief scout. The son of former NHL scout and player Lou Jankowski got his start as the assistant equipment manager of the 1993 Canadian junior team and worked his way up to the through the organization. He then spent five seasons as assistant GM of the New York Islanders and the past three as a scout with the Montreal Canadiens.
These all were good moves from Hockey Canada on Wednesday and should be applauded.
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