Two bench bosses were adversaries over the weekend to open the WHL season, however, they will be reunited at Christmas to coach one team.
Brent Sutter and Ryan McGill, the head coaches of the Red Deer Rebels and the Kootenay Ice respectively, will team up along with Benoit Groulx of the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL to lead Team Canada at the World Junior championship in January in Sweden.
It’s not the first time the two WHL coaches have worked together, as Sutter and McGill manned the bench in the NHL with the Calgary Flames a few years ago—the former as head coach and the latter as an assistant.
However, after last year’s World Junior tournament, where Canada finished fourth and failed to medal for the first time since 1998, Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence was reorganized with a new scouting and management staff.
Sutter, a two-time gold-medalist (2005, 2006) as head coach of Team Canada’s national junior squad, was unveiled as this year’s bench boss back in June.
When Sutter learned he was tapped for the job, he knew exactly who he wanted beside him on the bench.
“When Hockey Canada talked to me about being the head coach of the World Junior team,” Sutter said, “the two guys that I brought up to them was Ryan [McGill] and Benoit Groulx—the first two guys that I mentioned to Hockey Canada that I wanted to seriously consider—and I had their approval, and when I approached both of them, there was no hesitation with both of them saying yes.”
With McGill and Groulx on board, Sutter adds that everyone will be working together to build the best team possible.
“I think we got a real good coaching staff,” Sutter said. “It’s not about who the head coach is, or anything like that, or who the assistant coaches are, it’s about the coaching staff, and that’s the way you have to treat tournaments like that.
“Everyone has to be very much involved and very much engaged in how things are done.”
The three had a chance to get together and scout out Canada’s best U20 talent at a summer camp with practice sessions in Quebec before shifting to an exhibition tournament in Lake Placid, NY, in August.
Team Canada beat squads from Finland and Sweden, but fell 5-1 to Team USA to wrap up the event. Kootenay Ice captain Sam Reinhart was one of 37 players on Canada’s roster, scoring twice in two games.
The three coaches are busy running their respective CHL teams from now until the tournament kicks off in December, but Hockey Canada and head scout Ryan Jankowski are watching individual players in advance of the final selection camp in December.
Once the final invites go out, it’s up to the players to prove themselves and earn their spots, Sutter added.
“There’s always going to be some disappointed players, but the goal is to select the right hockey club, the right team, and that’s got to be our focus,” said Sutter, “and ultimately at the end of the day, you got to pick the team that gives yourself the best chance to succeed and win.
“There’s no easy decisions, but that’s the way you want it to be, you don’t want it to be easy decisions.”
Last year, in Ufa, Russia, Team Canada fell 5-1 to the States in the semi final, and lost 6-5 to the Russians in the bronze medal game. The Americans went on to win the tournament with a 3-1 victory over the Swedes in the final.
NOTES: Of the 37 players invited to to Team Canada’s summer camp, 24 are first-round NHL draft picks from 2012 and 2013. Nathan MacKinnon (first overall, 2013), Jonathan Drouin (second overall, 2013), Griffin Reinhart (fourth overall, 2012) and Morgan Rielly (fifth overall, 2012) were invited, but did not play in the exhibition tournament. There is a good chance they could end up in the NHL, which will likely prevent them from playing for the junior team.