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Team Canada escaping to Russia

World Juniors will be all hockey and no hoopla this time around

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KITCHENER, Ont. — The hype of the World Junior Hockey Championship never seems to abate.

With that in mind, you will find nobody in the country happier to be going halfway around the globe to Ufa, Russia, to play the 2013 version than Team Canada head coach Steve Spott.

"The last three World Juniors, the pressure that’s been on our kids and our staffs have been incredible," Spott said in an interview this week at his regular-job office as head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. "It was a very big show." Spott was an assistant coach at the 2010 tournament in Saskatchewan.

There, and at the following years in Buffalo and in Alberta under intense home scrutiny, Team Canada won medals, but not gold.

"There’s the entertainment factor," Spott said. "There are outside pressures of our players and staff with regards to families. And the media. It was as big as anything I’ve been a part of.

"Now, the fact we’re going to go to Russia, you’ll get the purity of the hockey back. That’s something I’m excited about. It’s not going to be about all of the media and the five-star hotels and the pre-game meals that would put any wedding to shame.

"It’ll just be the purity of the tournament and really take our players back into a time where they went to hockey tournaments. I think it’ll be a lot more simple and I’m really excited about that. Having been a part of the tournament in Saskatoon, they’re bigger than life.

"Going to this tournament is going to be really, really good, hopefully to get us back to a point where we appreciate just playing in a tournament." Spott, with ample experience as a World Junior assistant and other Team Canada assignments in the Under-17 and Under-18 ranks, understands the pressure.

"There’s pressure any time you put on that blazer and for the players who put on that sweater," he said.

"That starts at the U-17 level, and it’s ingrained in these kids.

"We welcome it. You wouldn’t want to go into these tournaments just thinking you might get a medal. It’s gold or nothing and it’s nice to have that pressure." When he threw his hat into the ring for the appointment that was announced in May, the 44-year-old Toronto native was keenly aware that every Canadian hockey fan will be looking over his shoulder in the weeks ahead.

"Hockey Canada prepares you for it," he said. "They bring you in as an assistant with the Under 18 team, then you go as an assistant of the World Junior team, then as head coach of the Under 18 team, then hopefully you have an opportunity to take this job. It’s not something they just thrust upon you, like ‘Here’s the life preserver, good luck.’ "One thing we’re very fortunate with in our country is the sharing of information among coaches. So dealing with the Ken Hitchcocks, the Dave Camerons, the Willy Desjardins, Donny Hay (all former head coaches), these guys have been spectacular. They’ve been willing to share, willing to lend advice, and that’s really important to me.

"You just don’t throw your name in the hat for something like this unless you know what you’re getting into." Spott has the additional challenge this year of having players who might or might not be available because of any possible start of the NHL season.

"Obviously this is going to be a unique year because of the (NHL) work stoppage," he said. "We really have three different ghost rosters that we’re looking at right now. One includes all of the NHL players, a second list that includes those players we think will be in the NHL and some that may be back, and a third list that includes all seven or eight that would just be in the NHL.

"Three different teams, but we’re having conference calls every Tuesday at noon with the entire coaching staff to talk about the weekend in our individual leagues." As well as phone conferences, the head coach has been to Hockey Canada headquarters several times to oversee the big plan.

"We deal with the itineraries, the extra travel, food, meeting chefs and sports psychologists and sleep doctors," he said. "Hockey Canada, the one thing they do is they don’t miss any details. When you look at this trip and the details involved, it’s a big undertaking."

 

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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