CALGARY — Steve Yzerman has been around Ken Hitchcock enough to know the man who will coach Canada at the 2008 IIHF World Championship in Halifax and Quebec City in May will leave no stone unturned trying to mine gold on home soil.
Yzerman, the general manager of Canada's National Men’s Team, along with Johnny Misley, Hockey Canada's executive vice-president of hockey operations, announced Hitchcock's appointment on Tuesday.
Hitchcock brings an extensive international resume to the job. He was an associate coach with Canada's Olympic teams in 20 and at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. He also served as an assistant coach at the 2002 IIHF World Championship along with the 1988 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Hitchcock also won the Stanley Cup as head coach of the Dallas Stars in 1999 and currently is head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Yzerman chose Hitchcock for a number of reasons, including his past history with Hockey Canada and the fact Hitchcock's NHL teams are always well prepared.
"It's kind of become an unofficial tradition for Canada to use different people going forward from year to year," said Yzerman, who hired St. Louis head coach Andy Murray for the job last year in Moscow.
Yzerman was a key member of the Detroit Red Wings and recalled what it was like facing a team coached by Hitchcock.
"They were hard-working teams and they played a very determined game and a physical game and a well-balanced game," said Yzerman. "The Dallas teams you faced were strong defensively but also very dynamic offensively."
Team Canada assistant GM Doug Armstrong worked with Hitchcock in Dallas and was impressed by how prepared his teams were day in and day out.
"You knew they were going to work to the maximum of their abilities," said Armstrong.
Yzerman and his staff expect the same from Hitchcock this time around.
Canada went 9-0 in Moscow last spring to win the gold medal and is trying to become the first team since Russia in 1986 to win gold on home ice.
Another pressure point is how this year’s Worlds serve as a qualifying event for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. That means the seeding coming out of the world championship will impact the schedule at the Olympic hockey competition.
Hitchcock is ready for the dual challenge.
"I think the pressure goes with the expectation level and the expectation level in Canada has always been gold or bust and I think everybody understands that going in," he said. "And I think we have all learned not only how to live in that atmosphere, at every level, and over the past 10 years practically thrive it in.
"I think we all know where that is and not only the coaches but the players and management look forward to that, to being the best, and regardless of what level it is at, it is a measuring stick for us. Our pride in our game in our pride in our program is very strong and we take these competitions very personally and it is a really important event.
"It is magnified because it is in Canada this year and it is much more magnified. I love these competitions. I love the pressure that goes with it and the atmosphere that is around the competition."
Yzerman and his management team of Luc Robitaille and Armstrong will be busy in the next few weeks filling out roster spots and adding members to Hitchcock's coaching staff. Yzerman has already started contacting players to gauge their interest, their injury status and potential availability.
With the tournament being held in North America and on a smaller ice surface, Hitchcock knows what type of player he wants to have on his roster.
"I think the game is still speed and skill and I think the grittiness that is the North American game is based on the play in the National Hockey League and the surfaces we will play on will be paramount there too," he said.
"I think what we are looking for is we will play Canadian hockey. There is a great opportunity to put a great team on the ice now and I think with it being in North America, and in Canada in particular, I think a lot of players will want to play.
"It is our playoffs now and I have found these competitions matter as much or more than the NHL playoffs do. I think you will find a lot of players who will come on board because they want to be part of this."
Canada opens training camp in Quebec City on April 24 and plays its first world championship game on May 2 in Halifax against Slovenia.
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