Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Should Canadian hockey fans be concerned? . . . Raiders add assistant coach

D Jim Vandermeer (Red Deer, 1997-2001) has signed a one-year extension with the Belfast Giants (Northern Ireland, UK Elite). He had two goals and 10 assists in 13 games last season. . . .
D David Němeček (Saskatoon, 2013-14) has signed a tryout contract with Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia, KHL). Last season, with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL), he had two goals and seven assists in 60 games.
Team Canada, you will recall, finished sixth at the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki.
Last week, Canada went 0-3 in a four-country summer tournament in Plymouth, Mich.
On Wednesday, Canada’s eight-year golden run ended at the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Hey, Canada, what’s wrong?
After the three losses in Plymouth, Team Canada head coach Dominique Ducharme claimed that he isn't worried. “In August?” he said. “Not really. We’re building, putting in the combinations for Christmas.”
However, there are those who get paid to watch these games who feel that Canada should be concerned.
As Bob Duff, who was in Plymouth, wrote in the Windsor Star: “A Hockey Canada veteran, a former Olympian who was among the scores of NHL people here to scout the event, suggested that the Canadians were the victims of over-coaching, that their natural talents were being squeezed out of their game by the obsessive need to play within the system.
“An NHL GM went as far as to suggest that the European teams are better coached in the ways of the game than Canada, and certainly the Swedes and Finns played with much more flow and skill than was exhibited by Canada.
“The Canadians looked rigid, like they were thinking too much instead of reacting to situations. They always appeared to be a step slower than their opponents. Passes went nowhere, or often to the stick on an opponent.”
Duff also had this: “An NHL scout suggested that beyond (Mitch) Marner and Tyson Jost, there might not be another Canadian who thinks the game well, simply because in today’s robotic style of hockey, where blocked shots are a treasured statistic, thinking isn’t in vogue.”
Look, it has become most apparent that Canada’s U-18 and U-20 teams are struggling to stay in the top four of their age groups. In fact, with the Russians and Czechs also in the hunt, you could make a case for their being a top six.
The Canadian way of sticking to a system at all costs and grinding out greasy goals just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you are a regular watcher of major junior games, you know that most teams in your favourite league play those systemic games, too. Cycle. Grind. Crash the net. Cycle. Grind. Crash the net. Gotta get those greasy goals.
The problem, of course, is that there are too many major junior teams for the size of the talent pool. A team without an abundance of skill has a better chance of winning by grinding, blocking shots and limiting the other team’s scoring chances. The stakes are high, too, and jobs are on the line, so better to increase the chances of winning by installing those systems.
However, it is all but impossible for coaches and players to transition from that kind of system to one that allows them to run and gun on offence — all the while showing defensive responsibility — for a month in mid-season. 
Meanwhile, the Swedes, Finns and Americans have chosen to unleash the hounds on offence, something that has put plenty of imagination into that part of their game.
The other day in Plymouth, the Americans dominated the early part of the second period against Canada to the point where at one point they had 16 straight shots on goal.
Still, Ducharme plays the Alfred E. Neuman card — “What, me worry?” — at least on the outside.
Duff’s complete piece is right here.
The Prince Albert Raiders have added Brandin Cote to their staff as an assistant coach. He fills the spot created when Kelly Guard stepped aside. Cote will work alongside head coach Marc Habscheid and associate coach Dave Manson. Guard remains with the Raiders as their goaltending consultant. . . . Cote, who is from Swift Current, spent the past two seasons as head coach of the midget AAA Red Deer Optimist Chiefs. He spent two seasons (2012-14) coaching the Bentley, Alta., Generals, a senior team that won the 2013 Allan Cup. He also has coached with the Red Deer College Kings and Red Deer College Queens. As a player, he spent 1996-2002 with the Spokane Chiefs, putting up 255 points in 352 regular-season games. . . . There is a complete news release right here.
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Jeff Woywitka is the new assistant coach with the AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders. He fills the vacancy created when Shawn Belle left to join the Edmonton-based NAIT Oooks as an assistant coach. . . . Woywitka will work with head coach Adam Manah. . . . Woywitka, 32, is from Vermilion, Alta.. He played four seasons (1999-2003) with the Red Deer Rebels before going to a pro career that included 278 NHL games. He last played in Germany, spending two seasons (2013-15) with the DEL’s Augsburger Panther.

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