A light mist coated the North Shore Mountains beyond the Pacific Coliseum as 34 Canadian World Junior hopefuls arrived just after 1 p.m. Sunday to meet the media, touch base with the coaching staff, check out their equipment, and enjoy a buffet lunch at the arena’s Pacific Dining Lounge. But there was nothing cloudy about the expectations Head Coach Brent Sutter and Director of Player Personnel Blair Mackasey have set for this group as the process of selecting the final 22-man roster kicks off.
First, HockeyCanada.ca’s Lucas Aykroyd caught up with center Dustin Boyd, currently the WHL’s second-leading scorer with 47 points for the Moose Jaw Warriors. The 6-foot, 186-pounder’s sentiments were typical of this highly skilled and motivated group of training camp attendees.
HockeyCanada.ca: What do you need to do to make this team?
Dustin Boyd: I’ve got to come out and work hard. Brent Sutter really likes guys who always work. I need to go out there, play my game and show what I can do.
HockeyCanada.ca: What have been the high points and low points of your season so far?
Boyd: Our team’s playing well, and I’ve scored a lot this year. I think in terms of low points, we’ve struggled a bit of late, but we had a big win last night [3-1 over Medicine Hat]. Overall, it’s been good.
HockeyCanada.ca: What are your impressions of the city of Vancouver?
Boyd: It’s definitely a nice city. You know, I'm from Winnipeg, and it's a lot windier and colder there. I think it’s always warm here.
HockeyCanada.ca: Who’s your favourite NHL player, and why?
Boyd: Probably Joe Sakic. He’s one of the best players who’s ever played, and I think he’s got an amazing shot. He plays the game with so much intensity, and he’s a great leader.
HockeyCanada.ca: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Boyd: I just go to my room, watch some TV, have a nap here and there. Just hanging out, basically.
Meanwhile, Brent Sutter was in a talkative mood after making the transition from his duties as coach and GM of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels.
On the possibility of making roster cuts before Friday:
I’ll decide as we go along here. We’ll get into it for a few days here, and probably evaluate that on Wednesday after having some discussions with Blair and Bob [Nicholson]. We’ll take it from there. Friday will definitely be the day when we make final decisions on the players we’re keeping.
On the chances for younger players like Angelo Esposito and Jonathan Toews:
They have as good of an opportunity here as anybody else. I’m going into this very open-minded. There are certain guys that I’d consider our core group, but that’ll be kept between myself and the coaching staff and Blair.
It’s basically an open field. Now is the time for the players to show what they have. I had a good feel for everybody back in August, and Blair’s been watching them all over the last three or four months.
On getting longer-haired players to get haircuts:
Last year was no different than this year. It’s just part of being professional and wanting to
represent your country. I’m that way with my own team. I want them to look classy and look like a team. I’m not changing my philosophy on how our team should be on and off the ice, just because we’ve got a different group of players here.
On his expectations for returning D-man Cam Barker:
Leadership. He’s a returning player, but let’s not forget that he didn’t play in the last three games last year due to mononucleosis. But he made our hockey team. I do expect a lot from Cam. My team in Red Deer plays against him with Medicine Hat quite a bit, obviously, and I expect him to play up to his capabilities.
On comparisons with the 2005 gold medalists:
Last year is over and done with. Everyone knows the type of team we had, and we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. But this year is a whole different year with different players. We also have two different assistant coaches. But the mindset is still the same. We’re going to play a certain way. We’re going to put our foot on the pedal and we’re not going to take it off. During this camp, there are going to be players that want to play that way, and others who can’t handle it, and those ones aren’t going to be on the team. We’ll see over the next few days.
On the pressure of playing on home ice:
All that pressure is going to come from you [media] guys. I don’t look at it as pressure. I look at it as a great challenge. We’ve got to use everything we can to work in our favour
and not against us, and this is one of them. Whenever you represent your country, in Canada, in hockey, the expectations are always high. You’re expected to win. I’d rather have it that way than the other way. Hopefully we can rise to the occasion. I’m not going to get caught up in talking about January. The first thing for us to do is to get down to 22 guys, and then get focused and prepared for December 26. That’s our only focus right now.
You have to take it one day, one game at a time. Every game’s like a Game Seven.
On adjusting to international officiating:
Officiating standards, we’ll have to wait and see. I haven’t been updated on how close we’re going to be to the NHL or the international rules, or even the WHL rules. I’m sure it’ll be somewhere in between. I’ll get updated on the process this week, and we’ll manage that properly. You adapt and adjust to whatever the officiating is. You know, in the WHL, we’re not at the stage where the NHL is. We took strides two years ago on our obstruction and stuff and made the game a lot better in the WHL. Now, this year, the OHL and QMJHL have gone toward the new NHL standard, and the WHL has kind of stayed based on our standard. I think in the NHL, they’d like to see more battles from the top of the circles down in the offensive zones, and I think it’s going to happen over a period of time. I don’t believe in obstruction in the neutral zone. You should be penalized for that. But I think you should allow battling and competing from the top of the circles down, because that’s a big part of the game.
Blair Mackasey also took time out to discuss the team selection process.
On the USA’s junior development model:
I think it would be very difficult to just name a team of 22. I think the best Canadian players would want the opportunity to come in and compete for a spot, instead of just being given one. But that being said, the way the USA is going, when you look at their budgets and training facilities and the players they’re developing, we may have to go to that system too [someday]. Because there are an awful lot of good American kids who weren’t picked to their roster of 22.
On the impact of Canada’s increased U-18 participation:
Our U-18 team that competes in April in the World Championship has been a huge leap as far as our development of young players, and that’s reflected in the number of young players we have coming into our camps now. They’re much more ready to play at this level. We get a better feel for what they can do, because they’re competing at the U-18 Worlds in April and showing up at camp four months later.
On taking advantage of the smaller North American rink this year:
No doubt it is a factor, especially with some of our bigger guys on defense. We like to be big, and size is a factor in this tournament. If we can take advantage of that on a North American ice surface and maybe have a couple more physical guys that wouldn’t be as effective on an international rink, we’ll do it.
On what Europe and Canada have learned from each other:
I think hockey has become a global game. The European teams have learned intangibles from us, that willingness and ability to compete. They’re playing a more physical game now. Meanwhile, we’ve looked at their skill levels, and I think we’ve taken a lot of the speed and finesse aspects of their games, in terms of moving the puck quickly. The game today isn’t “us versus them” anymore. I think they’ve learned from us and we’ve learned from them. At last year’s tournament in Grand Forks, if you took Canada out of the picture, I think there were 54 participating European players who played in the CHL. There are no surprises anymore. They’re used to playing in North America and competing against Canadian junior players.