Canada has taken the first steps toward trying to win a third consecutive Olympic gold medal, only this time without NHL players.
Hockey Canada on Tuesday named Sean Burke as its general manager and Willie Desjardins as its coach for the 2018 Olympics, the first that will be played without NHL players since 1994. The United States and Canada face arguably the toughest challenge in preparing for Pyeongchang with most of their top off-ice candidates working in North America, where leagues aren’t taking an Olympic break.
Canada reached into its development system of executives to tab Burke for the head management job after he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. St. Louis Blues assistant GM Martin Brodeur will work under Burke, perhaps a chance to learn before 2022.
After being fired as coach of the Vancouver Canucks, Desjardins gave up a chance to be an NHL assistant this season to run Team Canada for the first time since the 2010 world junior tournament, saying, “There’s such a chance here.” He’ll be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.
Canada didn’t win gold in the last 11 Olympics held without NHL players before winning in 2002, 2010 and 2014. Hockey Canada President Tom Renney said believes he has assembled “some of the best hockey minds out there” to three-peat.
“This is our plan. It is our Plan A,” Renney said on a conference call. “This is outstanding, quite honestly. It’s a twist of fate, for sure, but we love the opportunity.”
USA Hockey has not yet named its management group or coaching staff. Former Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi and former Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma are the biggest names available, though don’t expect this to be another showcase for the old guard.
Paul Holmgren, the Philadelphia Flyers’ president who has been a USA Hockey mainstay, doesn’t want to run the show. He’d rather see a young assistant GM like the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Bill Guerin or New York Rangers’ Chris Drury take over.
“There’s another group of people coming up I think that are the direction that USA Hockey should probably go to,” Holmgren said. “Guys like that are the next wave of guys that need to take over.”
Back-to-back Stanley Cup winning coach Mike Sullivan would be an easy pick to coach the Americans if the NHL was pausing its season to go to the Olympics like it did in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. Like Canada with Woodcroft — who coaches Geneve-Servette HC in Switzerland — the U.S. might have to get creative by dipping into the college ranks as it will with its roster.
Canada has already put together an initial roster and will play in five tournaments between now and the start of the Olympics on Feb. 9. Notable players playing in two Russian exhibition tournaments in August include former NHL goaltenders Ben Scrivens, Kevin Poulin and Justin Peters, defensemen Kevin Klein, Cam Barker, Carlo Colaiacovo and forwards Ryan Garbutt, Mason Raymond, Derek Roy, Gilbert Brule, Linden Vey, Max Talbot and Daniel Paille.
“We know that there’s a lot of work to do, but we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to evaluate, try to pull some leadership out of those groups, see where we are with that,” Burke said. “I know the guys are excited. The players are extremely excited to play, and we’re going to have some fun with this, as well.”
Vice president of hockey operations Scott Salmond said Canada will have a team at the Sochi Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov , the Karjala Cup in Finland in November and the Channel One Cup in Russia and Spengler Cup in Switzerland and get to see various players along the way.
A USA Hockey spokesman recently said the U.S. had no plans to play exhibition games before the Olympics. That’s at least in part a result of how the U.S. is expected to build its team differently, leaning heavier on the college ranks than Canada, which will be mostly full of veterans playing in Europe.
“It’s an unusual Olympic year, I guess, with the way that the selections (are being made) and the tournaments that Hockey Canada’s going to be playing in leading up to the Olympics,” Brodeur said. “It’s going to be a different challenge.”
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .
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