Journal Entry: January 5th, 2002
It's done now for another year. People will look back and see a silver medal. They'll see a 5-4 loss in the final. There will be people who criticize, who will find fault with our team and our game. Everybody is entitled to an opinion. I'll have mine. I lived this not for a night and not just for the month that it took this team to come together and get to the world junior final against the Russians. I've seen it since I started worked with a group of these kids at the under-18s a couple of years ago. I've seen it in Moscow last season our junior team took a bronze medal. Then kids from that team were back with us this year. I've worked with these players and come to know them. There are some that were new to us this year but if you spend every waking moment--not just games or road trips but every meal, every activity--around someone over that amount of time you get to know them. I've seen it from the inside and there's a few things that I think I've figured out.
I think our game is in good shape in our country. Sure there are some things that we could and should do better but the fact is, no matter what the critics say, there's a lot of talent in this country and if you don't think so you weren't watching Mike Cammallieri or Brad Boyes or Jay Bouwmeester in this tournament. They can play for anyone and there are a lot more, to many to rhyme off. Just go down the roster of our team and you can't find players who aren't well-rounded, who are one dimensional. Hats off to the Russians. They beat us in the final and we beat them in the opening round. I think that if we played ten games we'd each win five. But I don't think that there's any gap between our team and theirs team in skill.
I also believe we delivere a message that reaches the people who work in the development of younger players. We could have taken a more conservative approach to the game that we did. Some past Canadain teams have gone that route. We tried to play an up-tempo game. We tried to match skill on skill. I hope coaches and other folks who are working with our young players in age-group hockey see that. It's best for the players and the game if we allow kids coming up the creativity to play the game and don't limit them with systems and dump-and-chase and all those other things that often stifle skill rather than grow it.
I was really lucky to work with a lot of great kids. Jay Bouwmeester is a soft-spoken kid and he asked me if I'd go to the draft to see him get selected. I said, yeah I'll go for the first five minutes. He really took off on the ice and to an extent off the ice too. On the ice he made more of an impact in every game and he completely deserved to be on the tournament all-star team. There were so many kids who'll be great players and great leaders wherever they play. Jarret Stoll was everything you could want in a captain. Aulin was just a super kid who kept everybody loose in the room. Brian Sutherby was just a warrior for us on the ice and had a bigger role in our room as time went on. Our goaltenders Pascal Leclaire and Olivier Michaud roomed together and got along great--team-mates rather than rivals. We go into a tournament looking to build a team over a short period of time. I really believe we put together a team in every sense of the word.
For a coach and a player there isn't anything like playing for a world championship. Sometimes I think people forget that it is 18- and 19-year-olds out there in this tournament who are playing for that championship. That's a lot of pressure. Going into the final I didn't have to say too much--and you can say too much in a situation like that. We didn't have to prep them on the russians so much. It was our second game against them. I just told the players that they had to go out there and give it everything, empty the tank. We had guys banged up. You know a lot of people talk about guys using this championship to advance their NHL careers. Believe me, playing hurt, playing to win, a lot of these guys put their NHL careers on the line to play in this tournament. The easy thing would be not to come or to bow out. It would have been easy for Stephen Weiss with his hyperextended arm not to play in the final or dress and not play. He didn't want to take an easy way out. He wanted to play and be a factor.
Stephen came up to me when we got back to Canada. He told me that he was sorry. His family had read in the paper that he had cost the team gold by not winning a face-off in the third period of the final. That's not fair. Coming out of our practice on the off-day before the final Stephen wasn't just cleared to play but he was our best face-off man. It's one moment in a game.
There were so many times that I thought we had the game won. When we were up 3-1 I thought we were steadying to close the game out but then a bad call on a delay of game penalty to Steve Ott set up a powerplay goal for the Russians and really turned the game around. Jason Spezza wire one in the second period that hit the crossbar. If it goes in it's a different game. Right down to the last minute I was sure we were a team of destiny that we were going to find a way to tie and win the game. It wasn't until about ten seconds after the end that it really sank in.
I told the players after that they had a lot to be proud of, that they'll have a lot of good memories when the pain passes. The guys exchanged numbers. They promised to stay in touch. I believe that I will stay in touch with a lot of the players and that there will always be a special connection between these guys.
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