In his second installment, WJC alumni Brian Sutherby talks about his behind the scenes experiences as a member of Team Canada back in 2002. It’s pretty sweet if you ask us- WG
With the NHL on a two day break, things begin to ramp up for Canadian hockey players and fans. The World Junior tournament and thoughts of Gold move to the top of everyone’s Christmas wish list.
Christmas is the time of year where loved ones get together for a couple days and enjoy each others company. Much the same, Team Canada has been doing exactly that for the last ten days. Bonding together, learning to trust one another, and becoming a family.
In a short period of time Hockey Canada has to bring 22 young men from all over the country and make them one. As far as preparation goes, Team Canada won’t be out matched by any country. Practices, video study, and off ice training are as crucial as ever to this team’s success, but Hockey Canada will tell you that’s not all.
With different personalities on and off the ice, there is far more that goes into building this team then a lot of people see. Since summer camp in August through this stretch leading up to the tournament, team brass is looking at a player’s character, discipline, and ability to mesh with teammates as much or even more than on ice play.
Selfishness is absolutely not accepted. Players are asked and told time and time again, to put the team ahead of themselves. If this is something they cannot do, they will simply be shown the door.
The days leading up to the tournament are spent grooming all of these qualities and ensuring everyone is pulling in the same direction. Aside from the exhibition games; team building drills, card games, soccer games, and dinners are several things used to bring this group together.
CONFIDENCE IS GOOD BUT TEAM PLAY IS KEY
With most players being go-to guys on their junior teams back home, egos or individuality is a fine line to monitor. Coaches and staff have the task of making sure everyone is towing the same rope. Most players are used to and capable of doing it all for their team during the regular season.
All the guys on Team Canada usually have a confident swagger that is absolutely needed to be a great player. It is imperative to have but at the same time it also needs to be dialed back at times in a short tournament like this.
I learned this rather quickly in 2002.
Our first exhibition game in the Czech Republic was against a Division 2 professional Czech team. Late in the game we were up 6-1, I took a hit that was definitely dangerous and from behind. I got up like I had every other time in my hockey career where I felt wronged and punched the guy. I hit him again for good measure before the linesmen intervened. We both went to the box and I thought nothing of it as we won the game 7-1.
The next day we were wrapping up our video session that was fairly loose given our victory and our coach Stan Butler developed an irritated tone, "There was only one thing last night I never want to see again from our team." The clip starts rolling of my incident the night before.
I sunk in my chair a little bit.
"Sudsy what if this was the Gold medal game? This can never ever happen again, you understand?"
The message was clear. No matter how bad, how dirty, or how wronged I felt. That was not accepted on this team.
Despite hearing our Coach the first time, I was just as dumb and reckless the next night. I honestly didn’t know how to play any other way. It was just an exhibition game but it was as fast and intense as any game I have ever played. At least it felt that way to me.
Once again my emotions got the best of me. I feared what was coming as I skated to the bench following my second elbowing penalty of the night. Stan grabbed me by the shoulders and leaned right down and whispered in my ear, "I don’t care if you have made this team; if you take one more penalty you will not play one shift in this tournament!"
Say no more. I knew I needed to change my game and adapt in a hurry.
PUT TO THE TEST
In the actual tournament in 2002, I was spit on in a game versus the Russians. It was the most ridiculous thing that had ever happened to me and the most difficult moment in my hockey career to skate away from, but I managed to.
I can assure you without the strict discipline pounded into me those days leading up to the tournament, I likely would have been ejected for what I wanted to do in that moment.
To this day, I still think about being alone in a dark alley with that guy, but in that game all I could think about were my coach and my teammates. Nothing was more important than our aspirations for the gold medal. The message was received this time.
Over the last ten days and the next two weeks, many players will have already faced or be faced with situations that question their character and dedication to the team whether it’s on or off ice.
Rest assured Hockey Canada has done endless research and preparation and will guide this team to be a machine of ultimate sacrifice for one another.